Concussion awareness has grown immensely in the past few years with the NFL and NHL taking steps to prevent concussions, including supplementary discipline for hits to the head.
The Arizona High School Hockey Association (AHSHA) has jumped on the concussion bandwagon, requiring baseline testing and increasing suspension lengths and fines in making sure athletes at schools like Desert Vista are cleared before returning to the ice.
AHSHA Board of Directors member Jeff Farr, who has coached hockey for 18 years, said the league is the first club organization to mandate the baseline testing for concussions. Should a player get a concussion during the season, this test serves as a starting point to determine the severity of the injury.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires all sports to give their participants a baseline test at the beginning of the season, Farr said. Hockey, which is classified as a club, does not have to follow this procedure.
“In the association, we try to align ourselves with the AIA as much as possible,” Farr said. “It’s really important to see what changes they’re making because we want to have a program that ensures the player’s safety.”
AHSHA partnered with the Mayo Clinic at the start of the 2011-12 season in September to provide baseline testing for the players as part of a five-step process, Farr said.
He said the first two steps are educating coaches and players about concussions and training the coaches and managers on what to do when players get concussions.
“We also require players and parents to sign an acknowledgement form, which requires them to notify their coach if they think they might have a concussion,” Farr said. “If a player comes off (the ice) complaining of a headache, for example, the coach is supposed to take him off the bench and put him in the locker room. He will check the player for signs of a concussion, and then get him to a hospital. That is where the baseline testing comes in.”
Tait Green, Injury Management Committee Chair of AHSHA, said coaches must take an online course to help them recognize signs of concussion.
“They’re not doctors, but they’re there to get the kid to one as soon as they start seeing the symptoms,” Green said.
Farr and Green said the player is not allowed back on the ice for practices or games until the doctor clears him. This is where the league needs the cooperation of the parents the most, Farr said.
“Parents are so fixated on their kids being on the ice, they ignore the seriousness of the injury then jump all over the coach for not putting the kid back out there,” Farr said. “Our policy is clear and it backs up the coach’s decision.”
The fifth step is the Fair-Play Program. Green said the purpose of the program is to clean up the game and reduce the potential for injuries.
Green said AHSHA borrowed the program from Minnesota Amateur Hockey, where it was successful.
Farr said the league is hoping that violent, dirty players will be weeded out under this policy and that teams will not be able to win by intimidation. Farr said this program is for the small percentage of players who just want to hurt their opponent.
“The program gives every team one point in the standings if they earn less than 14 penalties in minutes, regardless if they win or lose,” Green said. “This means a team assessed a major and game misconduct (15 PIM) does not earn the point.”
Green said any player who incurs a game misconduct for an “attempt to injure infraction” is automatically suspended a minimum of two games and fined a minimum of $25.
“Winning isn’t the only thing that counts, it’s how you play the game. We want to eliminate the dirty plays,” Farr said.
William Argeros is a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.