A sign shows support for Bills safety Damar Hamlin outside...

A sign shows support for Bills safety Damar Hamlin outside Highmark Stadium on Tuesday in Orchard Park, N.Y.  Credit: AP/Joshua Bessex

Safety in football was again top of mind on Tuesday for high school administrators and coaches and especially football players and their parents. That was inevitable after the events that unfolded Monday night at Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium that left Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin hospitalized and in critical condition after suffering cardiac arrest. 

Two topics loom largest: what is being done to prevent something like that from happening? And what measures are in place in case it does?

Section VIII, the governing body for scholastic sports in Nassau County, and Section XI, the governing body in Suffolk, follow a number of measures on both fronts for football as well as other sports. So does the Catholic High School Athletic Association.

The New York State Education Department requires all high school athletes to undergo physicals before they can compete. Whether administered by school medical personnel or a family’s private physician, “physicals must be approved by the school’s medical officer,” said Section XI executive director Tom Combs.

Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli explained that “should a student be returning from a medical condition — like a knee surgery or something like that — an additional assessment is required to verify the condition has been adequately addressed.”

In July, the state legislature passed the Dominic Murray Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act which implements additional measures regarding heart health. Part of the act calls for students who have exhibited risk factors for a cardiac incident or have a family history of heart issues to receive additional evaluation before competing.

High school football games  at every level  must have professional medical coverage present before they can begin. In Sections VIII and XI, that could be a doctor, EMT, AMT, athletic trainer, physician’s assistant or nurse. The CHSFL requires the professional be a doctor or EMT, league president Chris Hardart said.

“In my experience, most [Nassau] schools have more than one person on hand,” Pizzarelli said.

Both Nassau and Suffolk require an automated external defibrillator (AED) be close by any venue where high school athletics are played or practiced. Those requirements were implemented on the Island in 2001and then statewide in 2002 after Louis Acompora, a Northport boys lacrosse player, died from a blow to the chest sustained in a game in 2000. It caused commotio cordis, a disruption of the normal heart rhythm that can cause sudden cardiac arrest.

His family started the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation; one of its missions is to get AEDs into schools and it played a large role in the legislature passing a law requiring them in 2002.

“They have done remarkable work on Long Island and nationally,” Combs said.

Though it isn’t required, many school districts on the Island contract with companies to provide an ambulance and EMTs at all their high school football games. And when the Long Island Championships — the two-day football event — has games at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium there is one ambulance assigned to the field and another assigned to the stands, Combs said.

Sayville is an example of one school district with a contract for ambulances at every football game. It also has someone trained in using an AED at all athletic competitions.

“We’ve made safety a top priority and want to be prepared for any emergency that could happen,” Sayville athletic director Ryan Cox said. “The contract for an ambulance at every football game is part of our annual budget.”

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