Our Voice: Fall sports beginning soon so remember to play safe

A new fall sports season is around the corner and that means school athletes and their parents soon will have forms to sign and schedules to figure out.

Among the stack of permission sheets, there is one that deserves special consideration. It's regarding concussions and shouldn't be taken lightly.

Washington state has been the leader in preventing serious brain injuries at the middle and high school levels. According to the Washington Interscholastic Activites Association, the state's ruling organization on high school sports, coaches must be educated on the symptoms of a concussion and parents and athletes also must be told of the dangers of head injuries prior to the start of the sport season.

If an athlete is suspected of suffering a concussion, it will take a doctor's release before that athlete can return to play.

This wasn't always the case.

The change in attitude has come thanks to a brave young man from the West side named Zackery Lystedt, who at age 13 ended up in a coma after too many hits to the head on the football field.

His story launched a campaign that has swept the nation and now the idea of "toughing it out" or "shaking it off" is considered completely unacceptable when it comes to head injuries in sports.

In 2006, the Maple Valley youth was playing in a middle school football game. Part way through the game, Lystedt slammed his head into the ground and fought to get up. He made it to the sideline to rest, but returned to the field only a short time later.

A second blow to his head caused a brain hemorrhage and he ended up debilitated in a hospital. Lystedt's recovery was slow, yet remarkable. He was able to graduate from high school and make progress despite his struggle.

But he has never been the same. Doctors think he would have been fine had he not been hit in the head a second time.

So, he and his parents decided to push for a change in the law so other young athletes might be spared Lystedt's fate.

In 2009, Washington approved the Zackery Lystedt Law, which when enacted took the toughest stance on return-to-play rules in the country.

Since then, every state has passed some form of concussion law, with Mississippi being the last one earlier this year.

And just this month, the National Collegiate Athletic Association reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by athletes who were forced back into games after suffering concussions. Part of the agreement is to toughen the return-to-play rules at the college level. The ruling includes all activities.

Young athletes have a tendency to underestimate their injuries and coaches have a hard time telling an athlete they have to sit out when they want to go back in a game. The new concussion rules make it safer for the players and gives peace of mind to coaches and parents.

Brain injuries are serious. So parents, in that pile of forms that need to be signed, be sure not to skip reading the one discussing concussions, and make sure your child reads it too.

No game is worth a life-changing head injury.