There are no nationwide guidelines to protect high school athletes from crippling or fatal injuries.
The leading causes of sports-related deaths among high school students are sudden cardiac arrest, head and neck injuries, and exertion-induced heatstroke or sickling, which occurs in athletes who carry the sickle cell trait. Fatalities occur primarily because most schools lack four critical ingredients to assure sports safety: emergency action plans, policies for proper conditioning and safe exercise in high heat and humidity, the presence of trained health professionals at all practices and games, and immediate availability of automated external defibrillators, or A.E.D.s, to reset a stilled or erratically beating heart.
Dr. Jonathan Drezner, director of the Center for Sports Cardiology at the University of Washington, outlined the key practices the collaborative [Athletes Saving Athletes] project is trying to get every high school that sponsors athletic activities to adopt:
■ An athletic trainer at every practice and game;
■ An emergency action plan to respond appropriately to an athlete in distress;
■ A publicly accessible A.E.D. and school-based program in its use;
■ Climatization policies to prevent heat injury and heatstroke.