Official expects group to order brain injury class

DES MOINES – An official with the Iowa High School Athletic Association said Thursday that the group’s board will vote next month on a requirement for all coaches to pass a course on recognizing signs of traumatic brain injuries.

Alan Beste, the association’s assistant executive director, told legislators that the board will likely adopt a rule regarding the course, which would focus on concussions and other injuries.

The rule requiring the course would apply to coaches of seventh- through 12th-grade teams.

“The better the coaches are educated, the more apt they are to know what to do when somebody exhibits symptoms of a brain injury,” Beste said.

Last year, the association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union mandated that head coaches take the course, but it will be expanded to include all coaches for the upcoming school year. The association and union are the regulating bodies for high school interscholastic athletics.

Beste said once the free, online course is expanded, member schools will have access to a national database of coaches who have taken and passed the course.

The Iowa Brain Injury Association reports that more than 2,500 Iowans per year sustain a traumatic brain injury severe enough to require hospitalization. Adolescents between 15 and 19 years old face the highest risk of getting a concussion, the association says.

“Kids don’t have the same brains as adults. They’re still developing and more vulnerable,” said Geoffrey Lauer, health communications director of the Iowa Brain Injury Association.

If children start playing high-contact sports while they are still young, they could accumulate blows to the head that might cause serious brain damage later in life, Lauer said.

Beste said football, wrestling and girls’ soccer are sports in which brain trauma most often occurs.

Barb Cassler of Altoona is a registered nurse and mother of a 15 year-old daughter who plays high school soccer.

“During the sports season, I frequently see kids in our urgent care unit,” Cassler said. “It makes me feel much more comfortable they are passing this rule.”

A House education subcommittee was studying the issue Thursday but legislators opted to not take action if the association approves its rule.

Dick Thorn of Des Moines asked the subcommittee to consider regulating the safety and quality of the sports equipment that students use during practices and games, in addition to training coaches to recognize brain trauma.