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Tennessee first state to set up safety ratings for youth sports leagues

Jun. 22, 2017, 9:08 AM

A new rating system called Safe Stars will soon allow parents to check and see if youth sports leagues in Tennessee follow state-recommended safety protocols.

A collaboration between the Tennessee Department of Health and the Program for Injury Prevention in Youth Sports (PIPYS) at Vanderbilt, Safe Stars is the nation’s first statewide safety rating system for all types of youth leagues.

Details about the initiative will be announced July 13 during the 2017 Youth Sports Safety Conference and Celebration Gala at Vanderbilt University.

“Tennessee will be the first state to ever have a program like this,” said Alex Diamond, D.O., MPH, director of PIPYS and assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and Pediatrics at Vanderbilt. “This has never been done for community or youth leagues on a statewide fashion.”

Participation by sports leagues is voluntary. The program awards bronze, silver and gold star safety ratings.

“We really feel like this is an opportunity for teams to raise the bar for safety for their kids,” said Morgan McDonald, M.D., assistant commissioner for family health and wellness at the Tennessee Department of Health.

The bronze designation covers the most important safety protocols: emergency action plan, background checks on all coaches, constant presence of a CPR/AED certified coach, severe weather policy, anaphylaxis emergency plan and coaches being trained to recognize and manage concussion and sudden cardiac arrest incidents.

“The bronze level is quite comprehensive,” said Rachel Heitman, chief of injury prevention for the Tennessee Department of Health.

Leagues that meet two more safety protocols get a silver rating. Those that achieve four more are awarded a gold rating.

“This is an opportunity for teams and sports leagues to put themselves out in front of the pack, to really raise the bar around safety,” McDonald said.

The state has launched a website with information and links on how coaches can achieve a Safe Stars designation.

When a league obtains a bronze or higher designation, parents will know the coaches take sports safety seriously, Diamond said.

“It is akin to this — most people wouldn’t drop their child off at a public pool that didn’t have lifeguards,” he said. “But we do drop our kids off at gyms or baseball fields where there is no one assigned to and trained about their well-being and safety.”

A committee of youth league coaches, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) experts and Tennessee Department of Health officials agreed upon the actions required for the star designations. Rebecca Dickinson, P.T., DPT, COMT, clinical coordinator for Sports Medicine at Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Institute Rehabilitation Services, headed the task force.

The official launch of Safe Stars will be during a 6 p.m. dinner July 13 at the 2017 Youth Sports Safety Conference and Celebration Gala, which continues the next day with presentations by the chief medical officers of the NFL and the NCAA as well as executives of professional sports teams.

Neurologists, neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, pediatricians, other sports medicine experts and safety advocates are also on the agenda. The conference offers continuing education credits for physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, educators who coach and other professions.

Visit for information about registration.

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