SHERIDAN — While a state law passed in 2011 outlined steps school districts should take in order to prevent concussions, that law has no enforcement power.
The law gives all 48 Wyoming school districts guidelines for implementing concussion policies that restrict players from returning to games if they appear to have a concussion.
For example, according to the law, a coach or trainer cannot let a player back into the game if the player exhibits signs consistent with a concussion or other head injury.
The law also requires training for coaches and trainers on the signs of concussions, but it’s left to the Wyoming Department of Education to decide what that training includes.
The law is written regarding athletes in schools, which makes implementation the job of the Department of Education.
The final part of the law requires student-athletes and their parents to sign off that they understand the risks of concussions.
The guidelines don’t, however, outline any repercussions if policies aren’t implemented.
“They don’t need to follow (the law), they don’t have to follow it,” said Kari Eakins, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Education.
Eakins added that the law doesn’t give any enforcement powers.
But, if an athlete gets a concussion and is in a district where there is no concussion policy, the athlete could sue the school district. There is no part of the concussion law that points to this as a solution, but Eakins said it is a plausible response.
While the law isn’t enforceable, officials say it has brought about more awareness. There aren’t any known school districts in the state that aren’t following the guidelines, Eakins said.
Ron Laird, of the Wyoming High School Activities Association, said the WHSAA’s job in regard to concussions is mostly to share information.
The WHSAA does this, in part, through clinics on its website.
The law provides framework, and local school districts and sports organizations have implemented policies to watch out for and prevent head injuries.
All three Sheridan school districts follow the guidelines in the law, according to their athletic directors, and they all go one step further to be prepared.
Sheridan County School District 2 athletic director and head football coach Don Julian said coaches, trainers and athletes within his district are taught to understand and recognize a concussion and its signs.
If an athlete appears to have a head injury, they are sidelined until a medical professional can check them and parents and athletes are required to sign a document saying they understand the risks.
“If they don’t sign this they don’t get to compete,” Julian said.
The three districts also create profiles of each player’s brain activity.
It’s called impact testing, and it allows coaches and trainers to know if the hit caused a concussion and when a player has returned to his or her baseline levels.
If an athlete were to hit their head hard, the district could compare brain activity before and after the hit.
“We use that as a protocol to see if they can come back to play,” Sheridan County School District 1 athletic director Mike Daley said.
While organizations outside the school systems don’t have the same legal guidelines as school-hosted athletics, many have implemented their own policies to handle concussions.
Hockey coach Zane Garstad said USA Hockey, which organizes the local hockey programs, has their own training process for coaches and rules to follow for head injuries.
“If there’s any kind of head contact players are checked; they’re automatically checked,” Garstad said.
While other sports organizations follow their own rules, Little League baseball teams in Wyoming follow the guidelines set up in state law for local school districts, according to information on their website.
The recreation district follows the state law for school districts as well, but they also have a concussion information document all coaches have to sign during training at the beginning of every season.