IHSA files motion to dismiss concussion lawsuit

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The Illinois High School Association filed a motion with the Cook County Circuit Court on Friday to dismiss the class action lawsuit brought against it in November. According to the filing the lawsuit “threatens high school football.”

The concussion lawsuit alleges the IHSA has been negligent in securing the safety of its student athletes.

Filed November 26 in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of former Notre Dame quarterback Daniel Bukal, in lieu of monetary damages the suit seeks broad and sweeping changes in how schools medically monitor its athletes.

Bukal was replaced in the amended suit by Alex Pierscionek, a former South Elgin lineman.

In his public remarks in early December, IHSA executive director Marty Hickman contended the financial burdens involving with satisfying the lawsuit demands are onerous.

Hickman said financially strapped schools could be forced to eliminate their football programs.

In the motion to dismiss the IHSA says it is “not the NCAA and certainly not the NFL…not a multi-billion dollar business. (The Plantiff) is asking that far-reaching, long-term programs be imposed on a non-profit association with effectively no net revenues, certainly nothing even in the same universe as the colossal scale of the NFL.”

The IHSA has not conducted its own financial cost analysis, said associate executive director Kurt Gibson.

“It would vary from school and depend a great deal on location,” Gibson said. “My own sense is the costs would be a great deal more than people even think or realize.”

The suit requires that schools provide doctors at every practice and game. More than 60 percent of high school football related concussions occur in practice, according to statistics compiled by medical provider Cleared to Play.

“That would be an astronomical costs to schools, and it would be very difficult for schools to afford that,” Proviso West athletic director and assistant principal Calvin Davis said.

The average costs of a full-time certified athletic trainer, with benefits, is $45,000-50,000 per year, according to data provided by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). Currently the IHSA recommends each home team have a medical doctor available for its games.

Having doctors attend every single practice is not practical, said one Chicago-based trainer who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

“For the most part it’s not an economic issue because the doctors, physicians, anybody that’s really associated with the high schools, they’re doing it for free,” he said.

“The doctors want the exposure, but when they have to leave their own office to be at practice to do something they’re doing on their own free time every day is not reasonable.”

The Oak Brook-based Athletico is the country’s largest provider of athletic trainers. More than 80 of its trainers work in Chicago-area schools. In 2013 Athletico developed an iniative with the Bears to subsidize the costs of providing medical personnel at Public League football stadiums.

The program was renewed and expanded this year. The Bears provided $25,000 and the NFL extended a matching grant that allowed Athletico to staff 350 regular season games and the five-week playoffs at the city’s seven public stadiums such as Gately, Lane and Hanson.

Today, fewer than half of the Public League’s schools have medical trainers available day-to-day, said Davis, the former director of Sports Administration. The costs of medical staff at daily practices would require a massive infusion of private and public capital at least tripling the Bears’ initiative.

“I have to agree with Marty Hickman on this one,” Davis said. “I just don’t know how schools would fund it.”

A status hearing in the case before Cook County Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. is set for April 23.

Contributing: Associated Press

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