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Local athletic directors weigh in on sports safety

MILLBROOK — When pro football player Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills was taken off the field on Jan. 2 and rushed by ambulance to a hospital with heart failure, many parents had questions about the safety of young athletes when playing sports at school or at recreation centers.

As experts in the field point out, what happened to Hamlin could have happened to a baseball player or a hockey player.

The spitball was outlawed in baseball after Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians died after being hit in the head with one pitched by Carl Mays in 1920. Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues left the world of hockey after cardiac arrest. Boston Celtic Reggie Lewis was 27 when he collapsed and died.

Some local school athletic directors and a recreation department director discussed safety precautions taken, the equipment on hand, and a little about New York state law regarding safety and regulations in athletic programs.

Al Hammell, athletic director of Millbrook Central School District, said that when he started in that position four years ago, most districts were going in the direction of trained persons on hand and automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) on the premises at all events. Each of Millbrook’s four schools have AEDs.

AEDs are used to help those experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. According to the American Red Cross, the medical device can analyze the heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electrical shock, or defibrillation, to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.

“We do a pretty good job of keeping them safe,” said Joe Lasaponara, athletic director at Webutuck Central School District. He mentioned some of the other necessary items such as first-aid kits, tourniquets, and a lot of training.

“We’ve been pretty lucky; nothing drastic has happened,” he said.

Robert Scott, athletic director and varsity football coach at Pine Plains Central School District, said, “I’ve been in this place quite a while now I don’t know of any major incidents that have taken place.” He also said the district has never had a serious incident in games or in practice. Scott, too, talked about having AEDs and other equipment on hand for emergencies.

Danielle Scalewicz is director of recreation for the Town of Washington, which has year-round programs including a summer camp. She noted that they have an AED on hand at all times, and there’s another that’s kept in a shed near the field at Washington Town Park. Her teams also play at Guertin Gym at Village Hall; there is an AED on hand there as well.

While cardiac arrest has gotten the lion’s share of publicity lately, the past several years have also brought about much discussion concerning concussions in contact sports, especially in football. But hockey pucks are hard, as are baseballs, and other sports such as soccer can certainly get rough at times. The right equipment — shoulder pads, helmets, safety balls, breakaway bases, faceguards and guards for other parts of the body — may aid in reducing injuries.

New York State Education Law, Article 61, Section 3001b, states that a person appointed as a coach of an interschool athletic team must hold valid first-aid skills and knowledge certification (a minimum of 12 hours initial training, valid for three years) and adult CPR certification (minimum of three hours training, valid for two years) as well as a valid teacher certification. Any school-sponsored athletic contest or school-sponsored competitive athletic event held at any location must have trained personnel and AEDs and other prescribed devices. Most schools have plans and protocol in place at all times.

Schools require that, in some sports, players must have been examined by a doctor and must submit a letter to the school stating that they are in good physical health and can safely play.

There are also recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness that adolescents should limit a particular sports activity to a maximum of five days per week with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. To further reduce the chance of injury, athletes should have at least two to three months off per year from their particular sport to allow injuries to heal and to work on strengthening and conditioning activities.

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