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Concussion protocols: What if the opposition say it’s not safe for your school’s best player to play?

The recent suspension of a coach in the United States raises questions about assessing concussion in youth sport

With the senior school’s rugby competition in full swing, coaches involved with teams making real-time decisions about player welfare may be faced with new issues.

Consider a teacher or coach from a school team arriving over to the opposition dugout and telling them that their best player should not take any further part in an important game because of a perceived head injury.

The player says they are fine. They look and feel fine. From the player’s coach’s point of view there is no injury issue. But the point has been made. How then to react?

Does the coach demand to know the individual’s medical qualifications to make such an assertion? Would it put doubt in the coach’s mind about the condition of the child, whom he believed to be okay but is now being told is not okay?


Remembering the slogan “if in doubt sit them out” – whose doubt carries the most weight, and what would be the consequences of action or inaction?

We know that when the USA sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. That is how brain injuries firstly became a talking point in Ireland, and they are now one of the biggest unresolved issues in sport.

It began when the National Football League made a gesture towards taking head injuries more seriously by establishing the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in 1994. The word “Mild” was triggering for those that understood the seriousness of the injury and saw cynicism at work.

The NFL were then sued and in 2013 agreed a settlement deal with 4,500 players worth $765 million. They took the case on the grounds that they were misled about the long-term damage of head injuries.

That controversy crossed the Atlantic and now, in the UK and Ireland, legal cases are in train involving former rugby players with significant health issues.

But in the USA it has taken another twist. Recently, a basketball coach was sanctioned following a game between two school teams.

Reported by Mike White for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, coach Dale Chapman was suspended by Steel Valley school because of a disputed concussion issue with the basketball team’s star player in a game earlier this month. As a result of the suspension, Chapman is not permitted to coach games or attend practices for the rest of the season.

At issue was Chapman putting Makhai Valentine back into a game against a school named Sto-Rox after he fell and hit his head in the third quarter. Makhai was the second-leading scorer in the division, averaging 36.6 points a game.

According to the Post-Gazette report, the superintendent of the opposition team, Megan Marie Van Fossan, came on to the court with the team trainer to check on Makhai.

Chapman said concussion protocols were followed and Makhai walked to the bench. He also asserted he was told by Van Fossan, “I suggest he doesn’t play the rest of the game.”

He made the argument that Van Fossan was not a certified athletic trainer and should not have been the one to determine whether Makhai should return to play.

Chapman also said that Makhai didn’t show any signs of concussion while sitting on the bench, an observation that was substantiated by Makhai’s mother, Charell Valentine, who said that she was sitting behind the bench and that her son appeared to be fine.

Makhai was put back into the game several minutes later and finished on the winning side with a personal score of 29 points.

In 2011, the state Legislature passed the Safety in Youth Sports Act, which places rules, guidelines and protocols on concussion awareness and education. But the year before that organisers had already put in place guidelines and protocols for concussion awareness.

Under those guidelines, a coach should remove an athlete from a game if they display concussion symptoms. The athlete should not return to play until cleared by appropriate medical staff, including a trainer.

So, Chapman played Mahkai and got suspended. Ed Wehrer, superintendent of Steel Valley, made a statement explaining why that happened.

“Based on a report from Sto-Rox administration, Steel Valley School District administration investigated the matter and determined that a violation of the Pennsylvania Safety in Youth Sports Act had occurred,” said Wehrer.

“The Youth Sports Act specifically lays out the consequences of a first-time violation: suspension from coaching any athletic activity for the remainder of the season for the involved coach. As a result, Steel Valley boys’ basketball coach Dale Chapman has been suspended for the rest of this season.”

What took place was Van Fossan, who was not directly involved in the game between the two schools except as an employee of one of them, told the coach of the opposing team, Steel Valley, that their star player should not return to the game because of a head injury.

The coach took a different view of the matter and the boy was allowed to finish the game. Van Fossan then sent a letter to Steel Valley three days later outlining what had taken place, with Makhai falling and being put back into the game. Chapman was in his eighth coaching season.

As with all other aspects of concussion to date, what happens in America eventually happens in Ireland. Let’s see how it goes when an opposing team asserts that your star player has a head injury and must stop. The US has just sneezed.