HELENA — Numerous Montanans — including parents, doctors, nurses, lawyers, athletic trainers and school officials — supported a bill Friday to require youth athletes with signs of concussions to be sidelined and not participate in sports again until they receive medical clearance.
In all, 24 people testified for Senate Bill 112, by Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. No one spoke against it.
“We face a concussion epidemic here in America,” said Blewett, an attorney who was placekicker for Harvard University’s football team and for an arena football team in Billings.
His bill requires school districts to adopt a policy addressing the dangers of concussions with minimum requirements for the policy. It requires a youth athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion to be removed from the game. Finally, it doesn’t allow that person to play that sport again until obtaining medical clearance.
“We have these kids’ lives in our hands, and we know for a fact that these traumatic brain injuries, when they happen in rapid succession, can cause permanent, long-term brain injuries that will affect them the rest of their lives,” Blewett said.
Blewett’s bill is named "The Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act” after a Montana athlete who died in May 2010 after suffering a concussion at an Eastern Oregon University football scrimmage.
His mother, Cyndi Steigers, told how he had several previous concussions as a high school football player in Missoula.
“Our hearts are forever broken, but we are given a measure of comfort knowing so many young athletes will be helped through educating, protecting and testing about concussions,” Steigers said. “If we can keep one child and one family from suffering the tragedy we have suffered, the value of passing this bill will be immeasurable.”
Ray Tilman of Anaconda asked: “If our youth are our future, don’t we need to value their brains as much as we do their arms or their legs?”
J.C. Weida, a collegiate athletic trainer from Missoula, said 43 other states have passed similar legislation.
“Athletes, parents, coaches and officials in Montana are not properly educated or cared for, and because of this, short-term and long-term health and the ability to function and learn in the classroom and in life are being affected,” he said. “This bill will help with that.”
He added, “This adds teeth. It’s hard for a 15-year-old kid to say 'My head hurts.' ”
Julia Hammond, who serves on the Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council, told the committee she suffered from a severe brain injury at age 15 after hitting a tree while snowboarding at Big Mountain in Whitefish in 1999.
“I woke up 48 hours later as a confused young child,” she said. “I have no memories of this, and my parents basically had a kindergartner on their hands. There were no more dances, no more ninth-grade crushes, all those things that ninth graders are supposed to do. All my energy was focused on therapy and sleeping.”
People weren’t talking much then about brain injuries or concussion prevention, she said.
“They should have been,” Hammond said. “We laughed about ringing our head or seeing stars. And now in 2013, 14 years later, people are talking. The NFL is talking. People are talking. Parents, kids, athletes, schools. Please do not miss this moment to join this movement.”
Benjamin Phipps, a sports medicine physician from Billings, said he treats patients of all ages for concussions.
“We cannot prevent this injury, but with this bill, we have an opportunity to be the advocate for these young student athletes that they can’t be for themselves, because we know more about what they’re dealing with.”
The education component is a key piece of the bill, he said.
Several people suggested the bill be amended to include club sports in addition to school sports.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.