NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Safe Stars Initiative, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health, recognizes youth sports leagues that provide the highest level of safety for young athletes.
Dr. Alex Diamond is the Director of the Program for Injury Prevention in Youth Sports at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and also a co-founder of Safe Stars.
“When it comes to high school sports, college sports, pro sports, there’s a lot of structure involved,” Diamond explained. “There’s a lot of rules, and there are all these regulatory bodies. But in youth sports, there isn’t. It’s a bit of a wild wild west.”
He notes four conditions make up 90% of deaths in young athletes.
“Seventy-five percent of sudden death in sport is cardiac related. Second, is heat injury. Third is head injuries like concussions and neck injuries, and the fourth and very small percentage is sickle cell disease,” Diamond said.
Simple preventative steps can save lives, which is why the free Safe Stars program aims to enhance safety standards not just in youth football and basketball, but also activities like cheer, gymnastics and karate.
Safe Stars grades programs on emergency action plans, the presence of AED and CPR certified coaches, and concussion and sudden cardiac arrest recognition training, just to name a few. Based on the number of safety measures met, the organization will receive a bronze, silver or gold award. Currently, 45 programs in the state meet the gold standard.
“I would say the Rutherford County Schools have really been examples, as well as the Rutherford County Murfreesboro Parks and Rec system is also gold level,” says Diamond.
The athletic director at Siegel High School, Greg Wyant, speaks from experience.
“I had a kid with a traumatic brain injury when I was coaching football, Baylor Bramble,” Wyant remembers, “That accident, that injury, really got our county thinking about safety with our kids. We really started to focus on how we were going to handle incidents like that cardiac arrest that everybody saw on Monday Night Football. It’s tragic that those types of things have to happen for people to really get this back in the forefront again, but they do.”
With renewed attention, Coach Wyant urges all sports programs to prepare for the worst.
Dr. Diamond agrees, “Be an advocate for your child. Don’t be afraid to go to your league or to your school or to your group and say, ‘hey, are y’all Safe Star certified? What are you doing in regard to sports safety?’ And again, don’t only be an advocate, but be part of the solution. Offer to help and provide them those resources.”
Starting this school year, it is mandatory for public school districts in Tennessee to implement the bronze level, the minimum level of safety, but it’s voluntary for community organizations. Any youth sports league can apply for free for a safety grade.