Oklahoma Watch forum discusses school sports safety

Study shows state ranks 41st in keeping high school athletes safe on the field

Oklahoma Watch David Fritze asks a panel of sports and educational professionals questions about sports safety. From left, Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze, Yukon Athletic Trainer Leander Walker, OPTA President Alison Taylor and OSSA Assistant Director Amy Cassell. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood)

By Mindy Ragan Wood
Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: The Yukon Progress co-sponsored the Oklahoma Watch Sports Safety forum.

Following the deaths of Southwest Covenant Christian Schools’ Peter Webb on the football field and a Lexington middle school football player, Oklahoma Watch hosted a forum Tuesday night to explore a simple question: are schools doing enough to keep athletes safe?

The forum was held at the Oklahoma History Center. Forum speakers included Yukon Public Schools athletic trainer and head of Oklahoma Athletic Trainer’s Association Leander Walker, Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) Assistant Director Amy Cassell, and President of the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association (OPTA) Alison Taylor. Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze moderated the discussion.

Fritze asked the panel why the state ranks 41 in the nation for athlete safety policies according to the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut’s sudden death prevention program.

Cassell retorted that no one from KSI contacted them about OSSAA’s policies and the institute merely “scrapes websites” information to compile it’s report.

“But you have a lot of material on your websites,” Fritze pointed out.

“Yes, we have a lot of in-depth information,” Cassell admitted.

She insisted it was “incredibly unfair” to mention the study because no one asked OSSAA what it does to keep athletes safe. Cassell said its policies were “on par” with the rest of the nation, despite the study’s findings.

KSI CEO Douglas J. Casa told Yukon Progress Thursday the study was emailed to every state and at no time did OSSAA respond to the email. Many states responded to the email to discuss it.

Casa said OSSAA also did not attend a sports policy workshop by OU in January 2019 despite having been invited. The policy workshop was aimed to discuss specific policy failure as part of KSI’s national tour for in-depth discussion. Several sports medicine, athletic training organizations and school administrative staff from across the state attended to discuss better safety policies.

Among the common benchmarks KSI cites against a state’s overall score is the policies it recommends rather than requires.

States that have adopted KSI’s recommended policies have improved their score by as many as 20 points, including Georgia, New Jersey and Washington D.C.

“And then you have some states, like Oklahoma, where they’re worrying more about the nuance of the interpretation of the policy instead of the policies they don’t have,” Casa said.

KSI recommended policies for Oklahoma to include requiring an emergency action plan and more intense monitoring on the field especially when it comes to heat related injuries.
“The state still doesn’t require cold immersion (ice tubs),” Casa said.


The lack of ice tubs was not missed during Tuesday night’s forum. While everyone agreed concussions were not 100 percent preventable, the panel agreed heat injuries should never happen.

“If we have an athlete collapse and we have them submerged in a cold tub within 10 minutes, it’s been proved to be 100 percent preventable,” Walker said.

Cost was no excuse. Tubs sell for around $60 at farm supply stores and parents have been known to provide them, Taylor said.

Athletic trainers are missing from the sports landscape. An estimated 15 percent of school districts employ athletic trainers while the national average is 43 percent, Walker said.

“We’ve got a little bit of work to do in the state of Oklahoma,” Walker said.

They provide expertise in injury prevention and help ensure athletes do not return to the field prematurely.

Taylor did not hide her concerns for the lack of continuing injury education for coaches and the lack of athletic trainers.

“It’s difficult because we feel there’s not enough education,” Taylor said. “Coaches possibly being trained just at the beginning of the year with videos. That’s just one time at the beginning of the season, not continuing education. Not all of our schools have athletic trainers on board. I feel that you’re, if you taking a child’s life (into consideration), there’s never going to be enough education and standard of care. The loss of a life, you can’t put a price tag on it.”

Injuries are being missed on the field, but the reasons vary. Athletes sometimes do not want to report their symptoms. Coaches and parents fail to notice the signs of injury.
Walker said he has had coaches bring students to him “out of class” who complain of prolonged headaches and other symptoms of concussion. Fellow athletes threaten an injured athlete “that if you don’t report this I will,” Walker said.

“It doesn’t matter if its our starting quarterback or a kid who hasn’t been on the field,” Walker said. “The kids know that that’s an okay thing to do (report). If you notice something, you’re supposed to tell.”

Taylor did not exempt parents from the discussion on injury prevention and care. She said parents must educate themselves on the standard of care and pay closer attention to educational materials on injury.

“It’s easy,” she said. “We get compliant just checking the box…it’s our responsibility as parents first.”