Sports safety: Too much pain means no gain

Sports injuries & Liberty’s safety policies

Of the nearly 7.6 million students who participate in a school sport in the U.S. every year, 90% report that they have sustained a sports-related injury*. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, over half of these injuries could have been prevented.

Many Liberty students have experienced the painful reality of these statistics first-hand.
“I broke my leg during a sports practice. It happened three years ago, but it still impacts me today,” junior Andrew Miller said.
Whether athletes are playing football or swimming, they’re at risk of injury, and the consequences can be devastating.
Senior volleyball player Stephanie McLaren, who suffered a concussion this fall, can attest to this.
“It was my third concussion so I knew I was injured right away. I ended up having to go to a special neurologist to correct my vision, memory, and overall brain ability, causing me to be out for five weeks this season,” McLaren said.
Liberty doesn’t take the risk of injury lightly. The school has a number of strategies to protect its student athletes, including the strict enforcement of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) safety policies.
One example is WIAA’s concussion protocol, which requires any athlete with a suspected head injury or concussion to be taken out of competition immediately and evaluated by a licensed health care provider. For Liberty, this is athletic trainer Morten Orren, more commonly referred to as Mort.
“I put them through the protocol and send them to the school nurse. She starts Return to Learn, and I do Return to Play,” Mort said.
“Return to play” is a process regulated by WIAA that typically contains six steps, the first being return to regular activities, and the last being return to competition. Liberty takes this process very seriously, and only allows an athlete to progress to the next step if zero symptoms have occurred.
WIAA also has a minimum number of sports practices that an athlete must attend before being eligible to participate in competition. For most sports, this is about 10 practices, although this number may be higher for sports that are considered “high risk.”
With the safety of Liberty’s athletes in mind, several conditions were added to this rule. For instance, the majority of a practice must be attended for it to count. Also, if an athlete were to miss three consecutive practices, any additional absences would be subtracted from their total attendance record. Liberty also requires no unexcused absences or tardies during the school day to be eligible for practice.
“Liberty’s attendance policy makes sure that, if students are sick and missing school, they’re not coming to practice,” head gymnastics coach Ellyssa Daum said.
Liberty also has something that many schools don’t: coaches who prioritize safety.
“Safety is my number one priority. Sports have a tendency to have this culture of wanting athletes to push through. Coaches don’t care if you’re hurt—they just want you to compete. I personally have had coaches that made me compete with a broken leg, would slap me, and things like that. I’m working very hard to get rid of that culture,” Daum said.
Daum is not the only Liberty coach with this mindset.
“That’s one of the things I really like about our school and our coaching staff. In all the sports, coaches are always sending athletes to me no matter what. They aren’t trying to skirt by or telling people not to come see me,” Mort said. “I’ve heard that happens a lot at other schools, and their athletic trainers are frustrated when they see somebody who is injured and haven’t been notified of anything.”
Between the strict safety policies of WIAA and Liberty’s own mentality of prioritizing safety, it is clear that our school sees how vital sports safety is when it comes to protecting our students.
On November 26, 2019, Liberty was recognized for its Patriots Athletics program, and proudly received the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Safe Sports School award.
“Our goal is to lead our athletics program to the highest safety standards for our players,” Mort said.