Local

Hundreds have died playing high school sports. Why NC ranks high for preventing more.

North Carolina leads the nation in policies to prevent the causes of sudden death and catastrophic injuries among secondary school athletes, a new study says.
North Carolina leads the nation in policies to prevent the causes of sudden death and catastrophic injuries among secondary school athletes, a new study says. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

North Carolina leads the nation in policies to prevent the causes of sudden death and catastrophic injuries among secondary school athletes, says a University of Connecticut report released Tuesday.

The study scored state practices in five areas: sudden cardiac arrest; heatstroke; traumatic head injuries; medical coverage; and emergency preparedness.

North Carolina met 78.75 percent of the best practices in those areas, the study found, while other states met as little as 23 percent of them. South Carolina ranked 40th with a score of 39.80 percent.

High-scoring states had policies in place for best practices in all five areas, the report found, while those that scored lower lacked policies in one or more areas.

Johna Register-Mihalik, an assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science, credits the North Carolina High School Athletic Association NCHSAA and its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the state’s high score.

The athletic association has collaborated with experts across the state to craft policies such as requirements for written, posted emergency action plans, she said. It also found ways to help schools overcome barriers, such as those without certified athletic trainers.

“Our state also does a great job of people talking to each other, just kind of using evidence like the research we do at UNC, and finding ways to make it accessible,” she said.

North Carolina’s 2011 Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act moved the state forward, she said, by creating a concussion safety training program and response standards.

The law is named for two high school football players who died in 2008. Matthew Gfeller died of a traumatic brain injury he sustained while playing football in Winston-Salem; his family later created a brain injury research center at UNC Chapel Hill. Jaquan Waller of Greenville died after receiving a second blow to his head that he suffered after a concussion.

Two deaths directly related to football, such as in collisions, occurred in U.S. middle schools or high schools in 2016, according to an annual survey by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at UNC Chapel Hill. Another five deaths, such as those caused by heat stroke or cardiac arrest, were indirectly related to football.

The University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute produced the study, which was published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

The leading causes of death among secondary school athletes are cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, heat stroke and exertional sickling, a potentially fatal condition in athletes carrying the trait that causes sickle cell anemia, the study said.

From 1982 to 2015 in the U.S., it reported, there have been 735 fatalities and 626 catastrophic injuries in secondary school sports.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

  Comments