Five Things Parents Should Know to Help Protect Their High School Athletes

Parents can take action to help keep their children safe in high school sports.
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Parents can take action to help keep their children safe in high school sports.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A new study by the Korey Stringer Institute described in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine ranks Arkansas No. 11 for its high school sports safety policies.

Lesley Vandermark, a University of Arkansas clinical assistant professor, is affiliated with the institute but was not involved in the study. She offered parents tips, derived from the research on which the study was based, for keeping their children safe when participating in athletics at school.

Tips for Athlete Safety

1.Pre-Participation Physical Exam

Even if one is not required by your school or athletic club, parents should have their child get a physical before participating. Arkansas lost points in the rankings because it does not have a policy in place requiring athletes to undergo a pre-participation physical examination. The exam should catch risk factors that can indicate potential problems.

2.Sickle Cell Trait Status

Parents should know their child’s sickle cell trait status and provide that information on a pre-participation physical exam. Athletes with the sickle cell trait are susceptible to exertional sickling, a potentially fatal condition. It occurs when some of the red blood cells change into a sickle shape and cause a buildup of red blood cells in small blood vessels. Vandermark said most teens now in high school would have been tested at birth. Parents should educate themselves on modifications a child with the condition may need to make when playing sports.

3.Automated External Defibrillator

The Arkansas Activities Association does require schools to have an automated external defibrillator, or AED, at each venue or accessible within three minutes. Vandermark said parents should know where the AEDs are and how to operate them, in case no one else is available or they are asked to help.

4.Coverage by a Certified Athletic Trainer

Some schools in Arkansas hire certified athletic trainers and some partner with local medical clinics for athletic training coverage, Vandermark said, but either way parents should check that both practices and games are covered. Coverage is not required in Arkansas, but having an athletic trainer there can save lives.

5.Coach Training

Parents should ask about training for coaches, particularly for head injuries. The Heads Up Football program sponsored by the NFL is most commonly available to teach coaches about tackling techniques that are less likely to cause devastating injuries to players.

Arkansas’ Ranking for Safety

The Korey Stringer Institute study used an objective system to assess the safety policies in place at the state level, Vandermark said, and then ranked the states based on the policies they have in place to prevent the leading causes of sudden death in high school athletes. 

Vandermark, who teaches in the graduate athletic training program, is one of four U of A faculty members who serve on the Medical and Science Advisory Board of the Korey Stringer Institute. The institute, which conducts research and outreach to prevent sudden death in sport, is based at the University of Connecticut, where all four of those faculty members received their doctorates in kinesiology.

The Arkansas Activities Association oversees high school sports at public schools in the state. Private schools are not required to participate in the association, and any schools can put more stringent or additional safety policies in place than required, if they want, Vandermark explained.

Although Arkansas was No. 11 among the 50 states and District of Columbia, the state score was 56.03 out of a possible 100 points. North Carolina ranked No. 1 on the list with a score of 78.75.

“We ranked high but we have only a little more than 50 percent of the policies in place,” Vandermark said of Arkansas. “We have room to grow. In general, schools with better access to resources have better policies in place. It may not be cost outright but personnel to implement policies that limits them.”

About the Graduate Athletic Training Program: The entry-level Master of Athletic Training program prepares athletic trainers through rich classroom and clinical experiences. It is the mission of the Graduate Athletic Training Program to be nationally recognized for developing leaders who are clinically competent health-care professionals for the physically active.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Lesley Vandermark, Clinical Assistant Professor
College of Education and Health Professions

Heidi Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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