Medical staff recommended at CT high school hockey games, but not required

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Protocol for responding to medical emergencies and injuries at high school sporting events can vary greatly depending on where the game took place, what sport is being played and a myriad of other factors. But throughout much of Connecticut, having an athletic trainer or other medical personnel present at most high school-level sporting events is not a requirement.

That lack of requirement may not change immediately in the wake of the death of Teddy Balkind, a 15-year-old junior varsity hockey player at St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

Balkind died Jan. 6 from injuries sustained during a game at Brunswick School in Greenwich when his neck was struck by a skate during the game, according to police. School and police officials have not detailed the immediate medical response to the accident, only saying that he was taken to Greenwich Hospital where he died that night.

Rules for the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council, the governing body for the Bunswick-St. Luke’s game and other athletic match-ups involving prep schools, remain unclear. A request this past week for more information about the league's rules, including whether there is a mandate to wear a neck guard, were unanswered by a spokesperson.

“NEPSAC continues to extend its support and care to the St. Luke’s and Brunswick School communities,” the council said in a statement. “Nothing is more important to NEPSAC than fostering an athletic experience that is both enriching and safe. As is our charge, NEPSAC continually examines rules of play that govern our sports in partnership with our Sport Medicine Advisory Committee. As always, we will share more with our community should our standards change.”

Other schools in Connecticut - both public and private - are largely governed by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The organization does not require athletic trainers at ice hockey games, with them recommended. Executive Director Glenn Lungarini, however, said he couldn’t recall a game which didn’t include the necessary medical coverage.

“Not every school employs an athletic trainer and when we’re looking at making requirements for certain activities, we look at how trainers can be best utilized,” Lungarini said. “In hockey, I don’t know of any game where there isn’t an athletic trainer there.”

Ridgefield High School athletic director Dane Street referred to ice hockey as a sport with a high risk for injury, which is why it is prioritized for coverage of games at the school.

“It’s definitely at the top of our priority list when it comes to multiple-event days,” Street said. “Just like you would probably prioritize a football game over a volleyball match. The level of contact, the speed and the risk of injury is pretty great in hockey, so we put that at the top of the list and make sure that we have them covered.”

CIAC guidelines recommend that schools make a certified athletic trainer available to all school’s student-athletes, and that a “full-time” athletic trainer be on campus and for all games and practices.

“The presence of a certified athletic trainer assures that the highest quality of medical care and safety is provided to kids,” the CIAC handbook reads.

Athletic departments are “tasked” with training coaches to deal with some health issues such as concussions, cardiac arrest and heat illness, and athletic trainers are critical for planning and executing Emergency Action Plans.

“Because of the in-depth, high level training required to assure student safety, athletic directors and coaches can no longer be expected to bear the entire weight of responsibility for medical care. Every CIAC member school athletic program should have a full time athletic trainer,” the handbook reads.

West Haven athletic director Joe Morrell, who coached the school’s boys ice hockey program for nearly 30 years, said medical coverage is usually handled by host teams.

“It’s important to have that coverage. God forbid something happens,” Morrell said. “We have a trainer at just about all of our events for soccer, basketball and other sports. So there’s a trainer at every event just to be on the safe side.”

For Darien, hockey games are covered by both a trainer and an EMT.

“It’s necessary for safety,” Darien athletic director Chris Manfredonia said. “We’ve been doing that for a long time. It’s been our practice to have as much coverage as we possibly can.”

On Saturday, the Brien McMahon/Norwalk co-op hosted Westhill/Stamford at the SoNo Ice House and the athletic trainer was unavailable for the game. Instead, McMahon athletic director John Cross hired an EMT to cover.

“We have our athletic trainers there, and we have EMT coverage if they needed to be there,” Cross said. “Having an athletic trainer there who has a higher level of expertise makes complete sense. They’re able to help out with injuries and do a better job than we can.”; @dstewartsports