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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017: Health and safety issues in the headlines

   Leading off today: The doctor widely acknowledged as having first identified CTE in the brain of a deceased NFL player expressed concerns this week that the risk of traumatic brain injuries begins as early as in youth football.

   In an interview with ESPN, Dr. Bennet Omalu made his most sweeping plea yet for parents to keep their children from playing football for their own health.

   "There has been so much fascination with CTE that we are going the wrong way," he said. "CTE is just one disease in a spectrum of many diseases caused by brain trauma. If he doesn't have CTE, that doesn't mean he doesn't have brain damage. ... I've always said that every child who plays football has a 100 percent risk of exposure to brain damage. And I've always said that at a professional level, 100 percent would have brain damage of some kind to some degree."

   ESPN characterized Omalu's stance as a departure from his previous focus primarily on calling for reform in professional football.

   "I don't attack the NFL. ... The NFL is not in the business of health care. It is not a research organization," he said. "If you think the NFL is not doing anything, well, what do you expect? They are in the business of making money. The issue is parents."

   Also chiming in: A study by the Korey Stringer Institute has concluded that many states are not fully implementing key safety guidelines to protect high school athletes from potentially life-threatening conditions including heat stroke.

   KSI's survey of all sports showed North Carolina with the most comprehensive health and safety policies with a score of 79 percent, followed by Kentucky at 71. At the bottom were Colorado (23) and California (26). New York ranked 12th with a score of 55.75 based on the scale assessing guidelines addressing the four major causes of sudden death for that age group: cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke and exertional sickling occurring in athletes with sickle cell trait.

   "If these rankings can get more kids home for dinner instead of to a hospital or morgue, then we have succeeded," said Dr. Douglas Casa of KSI.

   The National Federation of State High School Associations issued an uncharacteristically swift and blunt response to the release of the study.

   "Unfortunately, the Korey Stringer Institute has proclaimed itself as judge and jury of heat-illness prevention and other safety issues by ranking the 51 NFHS-member state high school associations -- these very associations that have been promoting risk-minimization precautions in their schools' athletic programs for many more years than the seven-year existence of the KSI," NFHS Executive Director Bob Gardner wrote in the NFHS response.

   Gardner expressed disappointed that KSI singled out some of the very states it has been collaborating with as part of a co-op that has also included the National Athletic Trainers' Association.


   "Very simply, a review of state association websites, such as the one employed by KSI, is an incomplete measurement of the efforts employed by states to assist their member schools with heat, heart and head issues. Providing more research data, as well as funds to enact more prevention programs, would be much more useful than giving grades to these associations," the statement said.

   More NFHS reaction: The National Federation announced a resolution Wednesday emphasizing it continues to believe

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that Fridays in the fall should be reserved for high school football.

   "The value of tradition cannot be understated," said Gardner, the NFHS executive director. "Friday nights offer communities a traditional time and place to congregate and support their students. If a major college football game was scheduled in the area on a Friday night, it could affect attendance at the high school game or cause the game to be moved to another day. In addition, many of the Friday night college games are televised, which could result in lower attendance at high school contests nationwide.

   "We believe retaining Friday nights for high school contests is a plus for colleges as well as they reap the benefits of healthy programs at the high school level."

   Another star on the move: Glens Falls basketball star Sophie Tougas is the latest top talent to pack up the bags and head out of New York before graduating.

   Tougas. a first-team all-state selection in Class B last season as a sophomore, will enroll at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., next month.

   Extra points: The next phase of bidding for the right to host New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships has started. The organization announced deadlines this week for submitting proposals on three-year contracts (2019-21) for state competitions in bowling, wrestling, boys ice hockey and skiing.

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