New law expands scope of coverage

MARIETTA – Coaches and parents say they support a new Ohio law addressing concussions in youth athletics, but many wish more had been done to get the word out and some still have unanswered questions about which activities the law covers.

The law, which goes into effect April 26, was modeled after precautions already in place for school sanctioned sports.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association already requires that athletes who exhibit signs of a concussion be immediately pulled from play and that they can only return with the written permission of a doctor.

The OHSAA also requires training for coaches and referees and requires athletes’ parents to be given concussion information handouts.

The new law takes these rules and extends them to youth athletics outside of school, said the bill’s sponsor, Ohio Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus

“If you’re already doing these things then you don’t have to do anything new,” he said.

However, it is not clear from the bill’s language whether the new law applies only to traditional competitive sports or whether it also applies to activities such as dance classes, karate, or horseback riding.

The bill says any public or private entity that organizes an athletic activity for those ages 19 and under needs to comply.

“I am familiar with the bill concerning sports and schools, which I am completely in favor of, but I haven’t been informed of any new rules for private businesses,” said Jill Ruff, who owns and teaches classes at the Marietta Dance Academy.

Technically, a dance company could fall into the bill’s scope, but that would be for a lawyer to decide, said Stinziano.

“We left it intentionally broad so we weren’t picking winners and losers. We are encouraging individuals to talk to their lawyers,” he said.

Ruff said she did check with her insurance company, and they said the Marietta Dance Academy is exempt from the bill.

Two area martial arts studios did not return calls for comment about whether they expect to be affected.

But leaving it up to each entity to get a legal opinion could get very sticky, argued George Sauer III, general manager of the Buckeye Premier Youth Soccer League.

“I don’t think people understand what an organized athletic activity is. If the governor organizes an easter egg hunt, does that count? What about Putt-Putt golf?” asked Sauer.

Obviously, the Buckeye Premier Youth Soccer League, which includes 60,000 players, 10,000 coaches and thousands of referees in southern Ohio, will be included under the new law, he said.

But Sauer has been talking with legislators trying to get clarification for hundreds of activities that may or may not be included.

That may still be possible before the bill takes effect, said Stinziano.

“There are opportunities to clarify and address some of the concerns that have been given,” he said.

And Stinziano added there are no legal penalties in place for those not in compliance with the law.

“The goal of the law was to educate and inform and provide for student safety. This isn’t about adding to risks and liabilities that already exist,” he said.

The Marietta Youth Football League already takes several precautionary measures against concussions, said Smitty Vandall, of Marietta, who also organizes youth league basketball and softball.

“We go by the high school rule. They have to get a doctor’s clearance to get back in,” explained Vandall of players who show signs of a concussion.

Vandall also keeps records of injuries. Last year there were about 10 cases of concussed children in the football league, which consists of around 200 fourth-through-sixth graders, he said.

And while Vandall said he is supportive of the bill and steps that would have his coaches taking even more precautionary steps, he wishes more had been done to spread information about the change to affected organizations.

“I feel like we have enough time to get the coaches trained, but I haven’t heard much about it from the state level,” he said.

The online training, which is offered through links on the Ohio Department of Health’s website, is free and takes about 20 minutes to complete, said Sauer.

But it can not be completed if leagues do not know it is required, said Marietta Bantam Baseball League director Jim Brown.

“If it is something they are going to want us to do, I would have thought they’d have already contacted us,” he said.

The legislation did not require the government to send out notification, noted Stinziano. This was done because the law was intended to be cost-free, he said.

Brian Schuck has two daughters who play youth soccer in Marietta, and said he is very supportive of the law.

“I think where now there may be a gray area about concussions and who needs pulled, with this new law there won’t be any gray area,” he said.

The Marietta Soccer League will soon be discussing the new requirements with parents and coaches, said league vice president Tim Mullen.

“I think educating the coaches on concussions is very positive,” said Mullen.

Previously their coaches only to pass a background check, he said.

Brown agreed that the training is a great idea, but he would have never known it was required.

He said he’ll be studying up on the law to learn what actions his league needs to take before starting its season April 20.

“I wished we would have known a little quicker,” he said.