Sen. Jay Rockefeller visited Shepherdstown last Thursday afternoon to discuss ways to decrease the health risks and injuries associated with youth sports in West Virginia.
The roundtable, which centered largely on the ways local and regional teams can reduce instances of head injury and concussions, took place as part of "Youth Sports Safety Month."
With medical experts, sports coaches and community members all attending the discussion, Rockefeller said he wants to "change the culture" of thinking regarding safer play by athletes.
Rockefeller said that currently West Virginia has no laws that specifically address regulating safety in youth sports.
"We've got federal stuff. We ought to have our own," he said.
Eric Sampsell, director of rehabilitation at Robinwood Orthopedic Specialty Center, said that the best way to improve statewide safety is to facilitate an increased number of certified athletic trainers for each sports team.
"It's tough when a school doesn't have athletic trainers out there on the sidelines," he said.
Sampsell suggested that providing the best care for athletes suffering head injuries such as concussions, requires immediate medical attention after contact.
"It's about getting there initially," he said.
Gary Ray, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary Activities Commission (WVSSAC), echoed Sampsell's remarks.
"I think that's very important," he said.
"We here in West Virginia don't regulate certified trainers... That'd be key," he said.
Rockefeller suggested that improvements be made to the availability of concussion impact tests, with trained professionals available to administer them.
The senator said that the cost per school each year for the impact tests is approximately $500.
"That doesn't sound like a showstopper," he said.
Doctor Konrad Nau, professor and chair, WVU Department of Family Medicine and co-founder of WVU Concussion Collaborative, has been providing impact testing for athletes in the Eastern Panhandle for almost seven years.
Nau agreed with the senator's point.
"There's no reason that can't be extended throughout the state. It just takes some coordination," he said.
Musselman High School athletic trainer, Matt Wink said he thinks the WVSSAC's current regulations have crippled the possibility of improvements.
"West Virginia is crutching everything," he said.
According to Wink, WVSSAC only currently requires athletic trainers for football and that under current guidelines, unqualified medical professionals step in to assist with sports teams.
"Nine out of ten chiropractors cannot diagnose a concussion," he said. "That scares me for our athletes."
Rockefeller, who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, held a hearing regarding concussions and the marketing of sports equipment in October.
According to a press release issued Thursday, Rockefeller's goal of the discussion was to continue to raise awareness about the issue.
"We all have a responsibility to make sure that kids who play sports are as safe as they can be," he said.