Casualties on the fields of play
Update 10/2: North Sanpete High School administrators said during a meeting on Monday, Sept. 30 with other Region 12 schools, that the response time for the ambulance took 10 minutes to get to the field from the time it was called. The entire event which consisted of Carbon High player Garrett Blanc being knocked out, being checked on the field by on scene medical personnel, to the call for the ambulance and finally being transported to the hospital took about 25 minutes total.
It was just like any other play.
Two football players colliding with one trying to take the other to the ground.
But what happened after the play is making some Carbon High School coaches and administrators question the process relating to player safety.
When Carbon High School football player Garrett Blanc went in to make a tackle against a player from North Sanpete High School two weeks ago, it was a violent collision between two athletes that, while looking back felt like it happened over several minutes, unfolded over the course of just a few seconds.
However, the events that took place after the play have some questioning how things are handled in a period of heightened awareness of safety for athletes.
The play in question occurred during the second quarter of Carbon's 37-0 loss to North Sanpete. Blanc, a junior linebacker and wide receiver, went in to make a tackle of a North Sanpete running back. As he approached the running back, Blanc went in low and his helmet collided with the hip of the opposing player, knocking Garrett out, according to CHS head coach Jeff Blanc.
Garrett immediately fell to the ground as the play continued and during the final seconds of the play another player's foot collided with Garrett's helmet as he lay on the field, marking the second of two heavy blows within a matter of seconds."He was definitely knocked out from the hit," said Blanc. Blanc said Garrett opened his eyes after about 30 seconds and had dilated pupils, a sign of a possible concussion.
"Garrett slowly started to come to but we were also worried because he had a cut on his head probably from the cleat that hit him," said Blanc. "He's had a concussion before, so there was some concern that this one was worse than the first."
Long wait time
Medical personnel, including a doctor and an emergency medical technician from the crowd, came out on the field to check Garrett. Shortly after personnel checked out Garrett, a decision was made to call out for an ambulance.
For the next 25 minutes, the game was put on hold as Garrett was made to stay on the field until an ambulance arrived. Protocol requires that a player stay on the ground until they are fully evaluated by medical personnel.
"That was pretty disgusting to be honest," Blanc said of the long wait for the ambulance. "What if he had broken his neck out there? You've got to have things like this treated right away."
That amount of time has some including coach Jeff Blanc and other CHS administrators including CHS Principal Bruce Bean and CHS Athletic Director Ted Bianco wondering if the Utah High School Activities Association needs to review its safety policies for athletes.
Nan Ault, principal at North Sanpete High School, said the school district was unable to pay the higher fees charged by the local ambulance association over the past two years. In that period of time, no ambulance has been present at football games, Nan said.
"The cost of having the emergency personnel from our area, who work as volunteers, be at the games was too costly for the district," said Ault.
That's not an unusual situation, according to Kevin Dustin, associate director with the UHSAA. Dustin said that some school districts across the state, including in rural areas like Mount Pleasant, are unable to afford to have an ambulance on scene during football games.
"It's just not practical to do that," said Dustin. "Some schools like North Sanpete High School are in remote, rural areas and having an ambulance be there for football games is not always a possibility because of budget cuts and the availability of emergency personnel to be there."
Despite not having an ambulance at home games, Ault said there have been no other instances over the past two years where serious injuries have happened that have required additional assistance.
Education plays key role
To help counteract that problem, Dustin said the UHSAA has schools work on having an emergency action plan in place to deal with various situations. Coaches and referees are also regularly trained on evaluating players especially during games to prevent a player from further injury, Dustin explained.
While the UHSAA emphasizes an importance on having an ambulance and emergency technicians on scene, they do not force schools or districts to do so, Dustin noted.
"The UHSAA strongly recommends that schools have the appropriate personnel on scene, but it's not something we force them to have present," he said.
The UHSAA follows guidelines from the National Federation of State High School Associations when it comes to concussions.
In the UHSAA's handbook for 2013-14, the suggested concussion management rules say than an athlete who suffers a concussion should not return on the same day that it occurred. Other guidelines say that "any athlete suspected of having a concussion should be evaluated by an appropriate health-care professional that day" and "after medical clearance the return to play (RTP) should follow a step-wise protocol with provisions for delayed RTP based upon return of any signs or symptoms".
But for people at Carbon High including Bean and Bianco, the fact that an ambulance not being present came second to the amount of time it took for Garrett to be transported to the hospital since the collision.
"In my opinion, it just took way too long for the ambulance to get there," said Bianco. "With Garrett's injury and the fact he has had a concussion before, that made the whole situation a little scary for everyone."
According to Blanc, Garrett was transported to Sanpete Valley Hospital, where he underwent tests, including a cat scan, and was ultimately diagnosed with a severe concussion.
Bianco credited the medical personnel on the scene at the game with quickly checking on Garrett's condition and making the call for an ambulance. But in all of his time as a coach and working as a referee, Bianco said he couldn't recall another time when there was no ambulance present at a varsity level football game.
"In all my time refereeing and coaching, I've always seen an ambulance there at the games," said Bianco. "But at North Sanpete, that's the first time I've never seen one at the field."
With away games, Carbon High does not travel with any medical personnel. Because of that, Carbon High, along with many teams across the state who travel to play games, depends upon the home team to provide medical personnel.
With no ambulance on site at the game, Ault said medical personnel including a medical doctor, a certified trainer and an EMT from the crowd were present at the game on Sept. 13.
Bean, who did not attend the game in Mount Pleasant, said Ault called his cell phone at halftime and explained the situation as well as checking to see if there was an update on Garrett's condition.
Situation differs from school to school
The situation at North Sanpete differs greatly compared to what is present at a typical Carbon High game. Bean said that physical therapists from ProRehab, medical doctors from the area and a crew of EMTs from the Carbon County Ambulance are at every home game for Carbon High. Despite Carbon High not being in a largely populated area, Bean said that the county is a huge supporter for the high school, helping to provide the off call ambulance and the crew at no cost to the school district.
"It's certainly a great luxury for us," said Bean.
Not all schools, even in places like Jordan, have ambulances parked at the football field, Dustin said. He said some schools have worked with their local ambulance services to have one close by in case a need arises for it to be called over.
The personnel on site during a home game against Grantsville on Friday, Sept. 20, were put to the test when Carbon High's Trace Johnson went down with an injury. Blanc said that Johnson complained of some neck pain as the emergency technicians evaluated him on the field. The call was made to have Johnson be placed on a body board with his neck stabilized. The ambulance was driven on to the track along the field and moments later, Johnson was placed in the back and sent to the hospital.
"Our medical people did their jobs perfectly in getting Trace the care he needed," said Blanc. Johnson suffered from whiplash-like symptoms, Blanc explained, but he did not suffer a concussion.
Blanc said that during his time as coach, he has seen players range from sitting out three to seven weeks during a season after suffering a concussion. It's no longer like the old days when a concussed player had smelling salts placed under his nose to get them back on the field quickly, Blanc said.
"I think it's a lot better now that there's a focus on the health and long term care for the players," he said.
With two boys, Blanc is no stranger to seeing injuries take place. Blanc's oldest son Jordan, a 2013 CHS graduate, suffered multiple knee injuries that required surgeries keeping him out for much of his high school football career. With Garrett suffering his second concussion in two years, Blanc said it could be a possibility that Garrett may never play football again.
"Even if Garrett was cleared to play next week, he won't be playing in another game this season," said Blanc. "He could come back next season, but we'll see how things go with that."
With the questions and concerns that resulted from Garrett's concussion and the long wait time for the ambulance to arrive, Ault said that at North Sanpete's recent game against Manti on Sept. 20, an ambulance was present at the field. An agreement was reached and an ambulance will be present for home games through the rest of the season, she said.
"We worked to change that situation and we got it fixed," said Ault. She did not say whether Garrett's injury played a large factor in the new agreement being reached.
After serving many years as a coach himself, Dustin said he can understand the fact Carbon High coaches may be upset with the situation.
"As a former coach, I just can't imagine not having an ambulance or emergency personnel at a football game," said Dustin.
Both Bianco and Bean said they were interested in bringing up the topic at meetings with fellow coaches and administrators to ensure that a similar situation does not occur
With a continued emphasis on player safety across all sports, Dustin said the education of everyone from coaches to referees to players will be a key factor in battling the problem of concussions in sports, especially in football.
"Education in player safety has come a long way," he said "and it will continue to help in the long run."