New sports study ranks which states have the best policies for keeping student athletes safe

I-Team found Florida didn't do so well

Parents are surprised at how low Florida ranks in the study by the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.

"You would think if your child is playing football, we would have the best policies in place to protect our kids," says one parent we spoke with.

Researchers looked at how states measure up in terms of having safety policies and mandates in high school sports. Florida ranks 23rd in the country. Far behind top leaders like North Carolina, Kentucky, and Massachusetts.

The study breaks down 5 categories: exertional heat stroke, head injuries, cardiac arrest, health care coverage and emergency preparedness.

While Florida scores well in the cardiac arrest category, the state scores very low in having policies and standards related to heat stroke. Scoring only 7.25 out of 20 points.

Florida got penalized for lacking policies on heat exhaustion or proper work, rest ratios. The state also takes a hit for not mandating cold water immersion tubs on site at practices to treat heat exhaustion.

Doug, with the Korey Stringer Institute says, "we're talking about a $150 tub and ice and water. And every high school in America has ice and water so we're talking about purchasing a tub."

Florida also gets sacked on emergency preparedness. Scoring only 2 out of 20. Currently the state doesn't mandate every school to have an emergency action plan in sports. Plans like who will call 911 or who will get the gate for paramedics to get on the field.

IN DEPTH: 
See the overall rankings: http://ksi.uconn.edu/high-school-state-policies/

See the Florida results: http://ksi.uconn.edu/high-school-state-policies/florida/

One parent says, "I think we could do a lot better."

"I think they need to look at those schools that aren't doing so well," says another.

One woman seemed skeptical and assumed Florida would be at the top of the list saying, "it would be interesting to see what policies they have in place that Florida does not."

High school sports related deaths can happen in an instant. In 2013, Milo Meeks from Brandon High School died after collapsing during basketball practice. Earlier this year in Fort Myers, 16-year-old Zach Polsenberg died after suffering a heat stroke during football practice.

"I think we have to be concerned," says Dr. Eric Coris at USF who studies heat illness in sports medicine.

His research team had USF football players swallow electronic pills so they can monitor core body temperatures with this digital device.

"I think the biggest thing was how hot the athletes can get when they're exerting themselves in the heat and have absolutely no symptoms," he tells us.

Dr. Coris says to get Florida ranked higher in the safety policies study the answer is simple, get certified athletic trainers in every school that has sports.

"I think it's critical. They're really the ones who are really going to coordinate all of that effort and try to maximize the safety of our athletes."

Dr. Coris and his team ran a state funded program that helped schools in Hillsborough get athletic trainers but tells us this year their funding was cut by state legislators and the program shut down.

"My message to parents would be to really push your local regional authorities to make the moves funding wise to get athletic trainers in all schools."

The good news, Florida's High School Athletic Association met with folks from the Korey Stringer Institute and are working on improving policies. For example, this year they're hoping to make it mandatory for all schools to have defibrillators nearby. We're told by FHSAA reps they're also making it mandatory for every school to draft an emergency action plan for athletic events in November.

But one thing not on the table is mandatory athletic trainers in all schools. FHSAA officials say that will cost $80 million to implement.

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Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team.
Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on Facebook, Twitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com

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