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Health officials seek to widen concussion rules

SANTA FE – State health officials are seeking to shore up and standardize safeguards against brain injuries in youth sports beyond schools in non-scholastic athletic leagues and clubs.

Coaches and many youth athletes would automatically undergo training to detect signs of a concussion and understand the potential consequences of a brain injury under rules proposed by the New Mexico Department of Health.

The agency has scheduled a public hearing later this month on the proposal requiring annual training about concussions not only for coaches but also parents and young athletes themselves – once they turn 11. Agency officials were unavailable Friday for comment.

Those children would sign a form each year that shows they completed brain-injury prevention training session linked to standards from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2010, New Mexico adopted far-reaching prevention and education measures to address concussions and potential brain injuries in school sports, and more recent legislation in 2017 extended training and education to student athletes.

State Senator and high school teacher Bill Soules of Las Cruces said he sponsored the 2017 bill after conversations with students who felt left out of decisions about concussions in athletics. He said protocols for non-scholastic youth sports were not fully addressed at the time – and applauded the idea of expanding youth education.

“The idea is that students have an awareness as to what the symptoms are of concussions because sometimes they don’t show up until one or two hours afterward, and the coach is long gone,” he said.

The newly proposed brain injury rules echo many guidelines already in place at statewide youth sports organizations affiliated with national governing bodies, such as New Mexico Youth Soccer that oversees a long list of clubs and leagues across the state.

Gloria Faber, executive director of New Mexico Youth Soccer, said the new state rules may help independent youth sports groups keep up with evolving research on brain injuries and ensure that athletes take adequate time off after a concussion.

She said standards for non-scholastic sports are especially important because many coaches are parent volunteers and competition begins at a young age.

New Mexico’s proposed new rules include a standard sit-out period for symptoms of a concussion or brain injury – of at least 10 days. Players would return only with a written medical release.

In 2015, a New Mexico judge overruled state concussion protocols to allow a high school football player in Rio Rancho to play in a title game after his parents challenged the school’s diagnosis.