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Lawmaker pushes IHSA to adopt tackle limits

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 4:00 p.m. CDT
Caption
In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, University High School junior Evan Berryman (left) catches a pass in front of sophomore Niles Smith during football practice in Normal. A bill that would have required high school football teams to limit tackling in practices to one day a week didn't make it through the Illinois General Assembly. Its sponsor hopes the state's prep sports governing body adopts the measure aimed at concussion prevention on its own. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Lori Ann Cook-Neisler)

CHAMPAIGN (AP) — A bill that would have required high school football teams to limit tackling in practices to one day a week didn't make it through the Illinois General Assembly. But its sponsor hopes the state's prep sports governing body adopts the measure aimed at concussion prevention.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Sente failed to make it out of a House committee earlier this month even though it had at least 10 co-sponsors. Concussions have become a source of increasing concern in football and other contact sports.

Now Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, wants the Illinois High School Association to adopt her ideas. The measure also would have required football coaches to complete concussion-prevention training.

"My hope is they take these suggestions that I have seriously and then incorporate them into their own rules, and then legislation would not be necessary," she said in an interview Friday.

Sente says she's asked the IHSA to report back to the legislature by May 31.

One of the group's committees plans to meet April 17 to discuss health-related football issues and could make recommendations on concussion prevention policies, IHSA spokesman Matt Troha said.

"A recommendation is possible, but certainly not guaranteed," he said, adding that the organization plans to update the General Assembly after the meeting.

Whether contact limits come from that meeting or not, though, the president of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association said Wednesday that he believes they're all but inevitable.

"I think that's the way things are going these days," said Greg King, who is athletic director at Sterling High School in Sterling and, until this year, was its head football coach. "Obviously, with concussions being (such a problem), it is probably time we as coaches look at ways to keep our players safer."

Reports of post-career health problems that have plagued a number of former pro football players have driven discussions about the harm caused by repeated blows to the head.

Some states have passed laws intended to shield young players from head injuries, while the NFL and NHL now require any player who has a concussion to be cleared by a neurologist before resuming play. And the NFL, as part of its labor agreement, has reduced the amount of time players can practice.

In Illinois, there are no limits on how many days a team practice with full contact in a week, only a required period of what the IHSA calls acclimatization where players ease into contact.

Sente sponsored her bill, she said, after hearing from a constituent who is a neurologist with a patient who told her he now has daily headaches after playing football.

She isn't against football, she says.

"Everyone's going to banged up in sports a little bit — especially contact sports. I get that," Sente said.

But she believes some coaches may not know enough about the effects and causes of concussions to full protect players.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman, in written statement offered to a House committee earlier this month, said he objected to Sente's bill, but only because it offered a legislative solution where he doesn't believe one is needed.

"We are on the same page with Rep. Sente on the dangers of concussions, but continue to have a differing viewpoint on how we should address the issue in Illinois moving forward," he wrote. "If measures, such as limiting contact, are forthcoming, we would prefer to see them run their course through the processes we have in place."

King, too, would prefer the IHSA come up with a plan rather than legislature. But he suspects most coaches agree with him, that it's time to take further steps to address a problem that he says he and others didn't think about at all as recently as 10 years ago.

"We've been kind of talking about it the last three, four, five years anyway," King said. "Hey, we're going to have to look at the way we do things."

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