Bill on high school hygiene gains steam

Nassau County Athletics Coordinator / Baldwin Athletic Director

Nassau County Athletics Coordinator / Baldwin Athletic Director Ed Ramirez cleans a mat after a first round varsity wrestling county championship tournament match at Mack Sports Complex, located on the campus of Hofstra University. (Feb. 12, 2011) (Credit: James Escher)

The push to legislate cleanliness practices in high school athletics and increase education about the spread of MRSA and other bacterial infections gained steam Tuesday. Both Assemb. Steven Englebright and the president of the state's governing body of high school sports voiced their support for a bill.

"We're speaking to his office right now," Englebright (D-Setauket) said of State Sen. Lee Zeldin, who Monday said he would draft the legislation after meeting with doctors and concerned members of the Suffolk athletic community. "We want to explore further what he might have in mind . . . [and] see if we can come together on the wording." Englebright added he was delighted at the interest in a bill.

Zeldin (R-Shirley) said Monday he was seeking an Assembly co-sponsor for the legislation, which would look to regulate hygiene practices in the wake of Hauppauge wrestler Nick Mauriello's nearly deadly bout with MRSA and another resultant infection earlier this year. If Zeldin and Englebright can come to terms, the bipartisan bill could be introduced in the current legislative session, which ends in June.

The bill also received support from New York State Public High School Athletic Association president Nina Van Erk, who said that while NYSPHSAA has done its due diligence in educating members of the athletic community, legislation would be helpful.

"We would be very willing to participate," in drafting the bill, said Van Erk, who also serves as president of the National Federation of State High School Associations. " concern is for an educational outreach program so that coaches, student-athletes and parents all have the proper education and understanding about good personal hygiene habits in all sports, not just wrestling."

She added: "In participating in the drafting of the legislation, we could work with the senator to ensure that best practices would not only be required but easily conformed with."

The immediate concern is that legislation would tax already taxed school budgets, but both Zeldin and Englebright said any proposed changes are unlikely to be costly.

"The idea is to require that they clean the mats," Englebright said. "It's not very expensive and in the absence of that, there are life-threatening results."

He said it remains to be seen how Albany will react.

"We're in an anti-mandate environment," Englebright said, adding that since it was a "common-sense" bill, he would "hope people don't get caught up on the mandate."

Possibilities for the bill include standardizing cleaning substances, insisting mats be cleaned before practices and meets, and in between matches, and requiring all schools that hold tournaments to have functioning showers.

Administrators have also floated the idea of requiring more extensive skin checks by coaches, though it's still to be seen how similar preventive measures can be enforced.

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