By Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan
The scene is as fall as pumpkin pie: students, friends and relatives huddled on bleachers cheering on their school football teams and players, led by cheerleading squads performing intricate routines that will hopefully help rally their team to a win.
It’s a backdrop playing out in middle and high schools across New Jersey and the country, and one that is as much a source of celebration and pride, as it is concern.
Each year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US emergency departments treat an estimated 135,000 sports-related and recreation-related traumatic injuries, including concussions, among individuals ages five to 18.
Last year, a Government Accountability Office found that between the 2005 and 2008 school years, an estimated 400,000 concussions occurred in high school sports.
The statistics are frightening, and all the more reason to applaud the recent announcement by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Bill Pascrell that the CDC have agreed to study and develop national guidelines for managing sports-related concussions for student athletes.
This is wonderful news for student athletes and their families. I commend Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pascrell for extending New Jersey’s lead on this issue to a nationwide campaign, and I’m proud to be part of this effort to make sports safer for our children.
Last year, I sponsored a law (A-2743) requiring the state Department of Education to develop an interscholastic athletic head injury safety training program covering prevention, risk and treatment of sports related concussions and other brain injuries among student athletes.
This year, I took it a step further and sponsored a bill (A-4008) to include cheerleading in the training program. We are the only state to extend the training program to cheerleaders. The bill (which was approved by the Assembly in June and now awaits final legislative approval) ensures the safety of students involved in cheerleading, which has become more competitive and pushes the limits of gymnastics and dance.
A report from the National Center for Catastrophic Injuries said statistically speaking; cheerleading is the most dangerous sport – even more so than football. The report cited 44 fatalities or serious injuries during the course of the study and those injuries continue to rise.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2006 reported cheerleading injuries increased by 110 percent between 1990 and 2002. The most common injuries were arm and leg strains and sprains, but 3.5 percent of the cases involved head injuries.
The CDC estimates that more than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high school contact sports. Second-impact syndrome occurs when a person sustains a second concussion while still experiencing symptoms of a previous concussion. It can lead to severe impairment and even death of the victim.
This is a risk no student athlete should have to take when they step on the sports field. I’m glad that as part of this nationwide effort, the CDC plans to convene a panel of experts to discuss possible pediatric guidelines to doctors on how to best diagnose and treat concussions that occur not only on the field but also from car accidents, fall and other causes.
Sports instill discipline and comradery and can be tremendously fulfilling. They are source of pride for schools, champion school spirit and can launch careers. Many a memory from our youth comes from a sport we played recreationally or competitively. We owe it to these students to ensure their safety and future memories.
Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex)) is the chair of the Assembly Education Committee and represents the 18th Legislative District.