The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has come out in strong opposition of Illinois Senate Bill 2550 and is urging its member schools and the communities they reside in to speak out against this potentially dangerous legislation.
Senate Bill 2550, which was filed by 53rd District Senator Shane Cultra (R) on January 11, would allow for a local school board to provide a waiver for a student-athlete to participate in a high school football contest, even if that the student-athlete has failed to meet the IHSA mandated 12 practices prior to the first contest due to involvement in military training. Football is the only IHSA sport that has a minimum number of practices required before game participation.
“This is very dangerous and counterproductive legislation,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “First and foremost, this is an issue of student health and safety, not an issue of patriotism. We all applaud and support young people who choose to serve our country. However, deferring this decision to a school board, which, generally speaking, has no medical training, is irresponsible at best. While students who receive military training will have some level of conditioning, they are not in football playing condition as defined by medical professionals. Our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has consistently maintained that all students need to have 12 days of football practice prior to participating in an interscholastic football game.”
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 38 high school football players in the United States have died from heat related illnesses since 2000, including five in 2011. There were 29 total deaths from 1980-1999.
“You could make the case that the practice requirements to compete in a football game should be more stringent,” said Hickman. “And I believe the sentiment nationally is trending toward creating more restrictions in this area. Allowing a school board to completely disregard the advice of trained medical professionals who are immersed in this field really just defies logic.”
Senate Bill 2550 was brought forward after a student-athlete in Senator Cultra’s district returned home from basic training in late August and was unable to meet the minimum practice requirement. The student-athlete appealed to the IHSA Board of Directors and that appeal was denied, resulting in the student-athlete sitting out the first contest of the year. The IHSA Board has received a handful of similar waiver requests in the past and all have been denied, based on the recommendation of the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
“Our committee (primarily physicians and certified athletic trainers) has the training and background to make that judgment,” said Hickman. “Their decision is supported by research and not fueled by emotion. More importantly, research tells us that heat illnesses are preventable. When you take into account all the positive steps forward that sports organizations around the world have made for athlete safety over the past decade, this bill would be a significant step backward for high school students in Illinois.”
In addition, the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association (IATC), the Illinois Athletic Directors Association (IADA) and the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee have joined the IHSA in opposing Senate Bill 2550.
In 2009, the June edition of the Journal of Athletic Training (Volume 44, Number 3) published the medical journal report entitled Preseason Heat-Acclimatization Guidelines for Secondary School Athletics, which was the culmination of a report prepared by 24 medical professionals, including co-chairs Douglas J. Casa (PhD, ATC, FNATA, FACSM) and David Csillan (MS, LAT, ATC).
The excerpt below from that report defines the heat-acclimatization period and spells out that other activities that occur prior to preseason football practice should not be counted toward student-athlete acclimatization:
“The heat-acclimatization period is defined as the initial 14 consecutive days of preseason practice for all student-athletes. The goal of the acclimatization period is to enhance exercise heat tolerance and the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm to hot conditions. This period should begin on the first day of practice or conditioning before the regular season. Any practices or conditioning conducted before this time should not be considered a part of the heat-acclimatization period. Regardless of the conditioning program and conditioning status leading up to the first formal practice, all student-athletes (including those who arrive at preseason practice after the first day of practice) should follow the 14-day heat-acclimatization plan. During the preseason heat-acclimatization period, if practice occurs on 6 consecutive days, student-athletes should have 1 day of complete rest (no conditioning, walk-throughs, practices, etc).”