LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky House lawmakers unanimously passed a bill Friday to require the state's high school coaches to complete first aid and sports safety training on athlete heat stroke and cold emergencies, a measure inspired by the death of a teenage football player at a sweltering summer practice.
National experts gave mixed reviews to Kentucky's sports safety measure, which if signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear would require every high school coaching staff to have at least one member with safety training roaming practice fields and game sidelines by the start of the next school year.
The measure, spurred on by the death of high school lineman Max Gilpin, cleared the House 93-0 Friday and the Senate 38-0 a day earlier.
"The intent is to give the coaches the tools they need to keep our students safe," Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins said after sponsoring the bill.
She said it was designed to give coaches greater know-how in averting any emergency and better skills to deal with one before trained medical help can be found.
"They'll be able to recognize dangerous situations before they become tragic. And they'll know to act immediately," she said.
Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said the governor will review the measure before deciding whether to sign it.
Gilpin, a sophomore at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, died after collapsing in practice last August and arriving at a hospital with a 107-degree temperature, authorities said.
The 15-year-old's coach, David Jason Stinson, has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide in an unusual case of a coach being charged criminally with a player's death.
Gilpin's death certificate showed he died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and complications from heat stroke, three days after working out for two to three hours in temperatures that reportedly felt like 94 degrees. No autopsy was conducted.
The case alarmed Kentucky residents and sent shock waves through high school athletic programs nationwide after a rash of player deaths reported in high school programs around the country last year.
From 1995 through 2008, there were 39 heat stroke cases in all levels of football that resulted in death, according to a report compiled by Frederick Mueller at the University of North Carolina for the American Football Coaches Association in February 2009.
Mueller, a professor specializing in sport administration, said Friday that Kentucky's proposal was a "good idea," and said more states are now taking a closer look at athlete safety.
But Douglas J. Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut, said that the concept is good but the bill doesn't go far enough. "No course is going to properly prepare them (coaches) to deal with the emergencies they're going to have to deal with on the field," he said.
Casa said schools offering sports programs should be required to hire athletic trainers — something some say will be difficult because it requires more money.
Kentucky schools are not required to have certified athletic trainers, though the Kentucky High School Athletic Association strongly encourages them to hire trainers. The association issued a statement lauding the bill for putting an increased spotlight on safety and ensuring any risks to players are minimized.