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IHSA Launches Play Smart. Play Hard. Campaign to Enhance Student-Athlete Safety

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The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced  on May 12, 2015 the launch of the Play Smart. Play Hard. campaign focused on furthering the IHSA’s commitment to enhancing the safety of Illinois’ student-athletes and collaborating with others who share that mission. The campaign will focus on educating and equipping athletes, parents, coaches and schools on ways to better safeguard the health and welfare of student-athletes, including minimizing the risk of head injuries.

“Player safety is the IHSA’s top priority, and we are thrilled to announce the launch of the Play Smart. Play Hard. campaign,” said Marty Hickman, Executive Director of the IHSA. “The IHSA firmly believes that high school athletics bring tremendous value to student-athletes, including lifelong lessons in hard work, perseverance and teamwork, but we also recognize there is an element of risk in athletics. Play Smart. Play Hard. represents the IHSA’s latest step in our ongoing commitment to enhancing the safety of student-athletes while they continue playing the sports we all love.”

As part of the campaign, the IHSA is implementing several new initiatives focused on enhancing student-athlete safety that build on existing programs. These include:

  • Launching the Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety to facilitate open and transparent dialogue around head injuries and other player safety issues, review the IHSA’s current programs and offer new recommendations to ensure the IHSA remains a leader in student-athlete safety standards and protocols. The Council is comprised of a group of individuals dedicated to enhancing student-athlete safety, including:

o   Tregg Duerson, former Loyola Academy and University of Notre Dame football player and son of deceased NFL veteran, Dave Duerson

o   Napoleon Harris, Illinois State Senator and former NFL linebacker

o   Tory Lindley, Associate Athletic Director and Head Athletic Trainer at Northwestern University

o   Dustin Fink, certified athletic trainer and author of The Concussion Blog

o   Sara Flanigan, co-founder and current president of the Illinois Spirit Officials Association, and a mother of two young athletes

o   Dennis Piron, Batavia High School Football and Track & Field Coach who coached son throughout his high school football career

o   Allison Hieb, junior soccer player at Normal Community West High School

o   Cole Steward, three-sport sophomore at Salem High School


  • Creating a player safety toolkit to continue to educate parents, student-athletes, coaches and schools on important player safety topics. The toolkit contains fact sheets, FAQs and other important player safety resources from the IHSA, National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Strengthening partnerships with the medical community, including leading doctors from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Seton Medical Center, as well as the NFHS and other state associations to stay abreast of new research, injury prevention developments and best practices related to all player safety issues.

“I commend the IHSA for taking such a strong step forward as part of its ongoing player safety efforts,” said Tregg Duerson, who played football in college and high school in Illinois and is the son of deceased NFL veteran Dave Duerson, who suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). “Coming from a football family who knows first-hand both the risks and rewards of playing the sports we love, I’m committed to continuing to honor my father’s legacy by working with the IHSA, student-athletes, coaches, parents and schools in Illinois to better protect all of our athletes.”

Play Smart. Play Hard.
builds on the IHSA’s long-standing commitment to enhancing the health and welfare of student-athletes, which has included:


  • Strengthening its Return To Play policy, which now requires players exhibiting any signs or symptoms of a concussion to be removed from play and prevented from returning until cleared by a certified athletic trainer or licensed physician. In the four years this rule has been in effect, more than 700 athletes have been removed from sporting events in Illinois, and more than 80 percent of those players did not return to the games in which they were removed.

  • Implementing current rules and proposing additional measures aimed at limiting the amount of full-contact practice for high school football teams.Requiring all IHSA athletic directors, coaches and volunteers to pass a concussion awareness and certification test every two years. The test is based on the IHSA’s online course, “Sports Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injury Training,” developed in partnership with the Brain Injury Association of Illinois and Illinois Principals Association, as well as the NFHS online course, “Concussion in Sports,” developed in partnership with the CDC. To date, 27,000 coaches in Illinois have completed the IHSA course, and more than 1.8 million students, parents, coaches, school administrators, officials and others around the country have completed the NFHS course.

  • Requiring all Illinois student-athletes and their parents to read and sign a Concussion Information Sheet, which outlines symptoms of concussions, the dangers of playing after suffering concussions and guidance for how to handle potential concussions.

  • Leveraging the professional expertise and insight of the IHSA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, which is comprised of certified athletic trainers, athletic directors and licensed physicians from prominent Illinois hospitals such as Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

  • At the national level, the IHSA also continues to collaborate with the NFHS on player safety issues. For 10 years, the NFHS has worked with Dr. Dawn Comstock, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, on the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System (High School RIO™), the longest running continuous surveillance study and largest dataset of all time-loss sports injuries that collects trainer-reported data across nine sports from a nationally representative sample of high schools in the U.S. This data is continuously analyzed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations for rule changes, guidelines, best practices and equipment to enhance student-athlete safety. In 2014, the NFHS also hosted a Concussion Summit Task Force, which resulted in a set of recommendations from medical experts, coaches, state association representatives and others on reducing head impacts and minimizing concussion risks.

“We applaud the IHSA for its ongoing efforts to enhance student-athlete safety and look forward to continuing to partner with them to specifically promote concussion prevention, education and training,” said Bob Gardner, executive director of the NFHS. “With Play Smart. Play Hard., Illinois is continuing to set a leading example for state high school associations around the country on tackling player safety issues.”

For more information about the campaign or for additional resources on player safety, including toolkit materials, visit www.PlaySmartPlayHard.org.