High School Sports

Just how safe is it to play high school athletics in the state of Washington?

The Ferndale High School training staff attends to players after a collision between outfielders during a Class 3A State Tournament game in 2013. Washington state ranked among the safest in the nation for high school athletics when it comes to being prepared for a potential catastrophic injury.
The Ferndale High School training staff attends to players after a collision between outfielders during a Class 3A State Tournament game in 2013. Washington state ranked among the safest in the nation for high school athletics when it comes to being prepared for a potential catastrophic injury. The Bellingham Herald file

Washington state ranked among the safest in the nation for high school athletics when it comes to being prepared for a potential sudden death or catastrophic injury, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute.

In conducting the study, the institute established a series of policies of the best practices regarding prevention and treatment of the top causes related to sudden death and catastrophic injury in high school athletics: head and neck injuries, exertional heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest and exertional sickling.

According to the results of the study, Washington graded out as the sixth-best state in the nation, tied with Missouri with a score of 60.00. North Carolina topped the list with a score of 78.75, followed by Kentucky (71.13), Massachusetts (67.40), New Jersey (67.03) and South Dakota (60.58). Colorado graded lowest with a score of 23.00, followed closely by California (26.00).

According to the institute, “A rubric was created in which each state was assessed based on five equally weighted sections pertaining to sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke, appropriate medical coverage and emergency preparedness. Current evidence-based best practices from the Interassociation Task Force for Preventing Sudden Death in Secondary School Athletics published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2013 were used to form the content of the grading rubric.”

Researchers at the institute gathered health and safety policies from each state high school athletic association and legislation that was in place for the 2016-17 school year and awarded points on the rubric if policies were required or mandated by the state’s athletic association. They did not receive points if policies were only recommended or encouraged. Each state received an aggregate score based on how many safety policies it had in place and how comprehensive they were.

According to a release by the National Federation of High School Associations Monday, the number of participants in high school sports nationwide reached an all-time high of 7,963,535 in 2016-17. Washington also saw an 11.73-percent increase in high school athletes last year with 152,014 participants.

Between 1982 and 2015, according to the institute, 735 high school athletes died from direct (trauma from athlete-to-athlete or athlete-vs.-object collisions) or indirect (exertion-based) causes while playing sports and another 626 suffered catastrophic injuries. According to NFHS statistics, there were 204,363,877 high school athletic participants nationwide during that time frame, meaning about 1-in-278,046 died from direct or indirect causes from playing high school sports and another 1-in-326,460 suffered a catastrophic injury.

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