It was last month and I was routinely checking the inbox when I noticed a correspondence from the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) with the subject line “IHSA Request”. Of course this piqued my interest because it is not often I get information from the state high school organization and the ‘request’ portion may have been dealing with athletic training. As I opened the message I simply thought this was a blasted email with necessary information from the IHSA… I was wrong, on so many levels.
This is how the email opened;
Good morning, Dustin. I hope things are going well.
I wanted to write you today to invite you to be a member of the Illinois High School Association’s (IHSA) newly established Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety, which aims to influence, shape and strengthen the IHSA’s commitment to protecting the welfare of all those involved in interscholastic competition in Illinois.
Needless to say I was kind of taken aback, but after that fleeting moment I was honored and excited and quickly read the entire correspondence and even more quickly responded to the IHSA with a definite yes (I didn’t want them to second guess my invitation, hahaha).
The Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety aims to be a well-rounded plenary body – with much and varying expertise – that can guide discussion on ways the Illinois high school athletic community can improve, advance, set initiatives and create higher standards for player safety. This body cannot create policy but it can influence decisions and create internal debate. Initially the main focus will be on head injuries, however, it is thought that the Council will eventually take time to look at all player safety issues going forward (heat illness, sudden cardiac death, and many more). The Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety is a part of a greater campaign that the IHSA is unveiling tomorrow (more on that then).
The Council is going to be made up of eight members from across the state; student-athletes, coach, official, athletic trainers, alumni and state legislators. Below are the quick bios of the Council at this time:
TREGG DUERSON, IHSA ALUMNUS
Following a standout high school career at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Tregg earned a football scholarship to the University of Notre Dame as a defensive back. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, he has since transitioned to a successful banking career. Tregg remains connected to the game as a passionate advocate for player health and safety. As the son of deceased NFL veteran Dave Duerson, who suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), Tregg has worked ardently on player safety initiatives with the Illinois legislature and has spoken publicly as an advocate for suicide prevention and about mental health issues associated with injuries. His efforts with the Dave Duerson Foundation resulted in 200 King Devick sideline concussion tests being donated to 80 public schools.
NAPOLEON HARRIS, ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR
A Thornton High School graduate who went on to have a standout college football career at Northwestern University, Napoleon played in the NFL for eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. In 2013, he was elected to the Illinois State Senate as the representative for the 15th district. An advocate for player safety, Napoleon has worked on several safety initiatives since taking office, including collaborating with the IHSA on a catastrophic injury insurance law that was passed in 2013 to ensure student-athletes have insurance coverage if they sustain injuries that lead to paralysis.
TORY LINDLEY, MA CERTIFIED ATHLETIC TRAINER (ATC)
As Associate Athletic Director at Northwestern University, Tory oversees the Athletic Training Services for the school’s 19 NCAA Division I athletic programs. A member of the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame, Tory was honored as the Head Athletic Trainer of the Year for Division I and the Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2012. A passionate supporter of enhancing player safety, Tory has written and spoken extensively on concussion prevention and recognition, and is a member of the NFHS Concussion Summit Task Force.
DUSTIN FINK, MS CERTIFIED ATHLETIC TRAINER (ATC)
Dustin serves as an ATC in Central Illinois. He has more than 20 years of experience working with student-athletes who have suffered injuries, including include concussions. As a father and former athlete, Dustin’s desire to “see his three kids grow up and play full-contact/collision sports, if they choose, in a safer environment led him to launch The Concussion Blog, which aims to help educate parents and student-athletes on how to minimize the dangers of head injuries in sports.
SARA FLANIGAN, IHSA OFFICIAL
With more than 25 years of experience, Sara started out as a member of the Crystal Lake Central Pom Squad and today is a nationally recognized cheerleading coach. She is also co-founder and president of the Illinois Spirit Officials Association, serves as an IHSA official in Competitive Dance and Football, and was named the Cheer Official of the Year in 2011. On the academic front, Sara teaches math and is the Student Activities Coordinator at Wauconda High School. As a parent of two boys who are active in youth sports, Sara is passionate about student-athlete health and safety.
DENNIS PIRON, BATAVIA HIGH SCHOOL COACH
Dennis is a Batavia Bulldog through and through, having returned to teach and coach at his alma mater in 1989. He ascended to the head coaching role for the football program in 2011, and led Batavia to its first football state title in 2013. As a coach and father, Dennis cares immensely about the safety of his players, as he even coached his own son throughout his high school football career. Dennis is a board member for the Batavia Youth Football Program, where he remains committed to teaching young athletes and coaches to play the game safely and correctly.
ALLY HIEB, STUDENT-ATHLETE
One of two current student-athletes on the advisory council, Ally is a junior at Normal Community West High School, where she participates in soccer and was previously a member of the Normal West volleyball team. Ally was one of the top defenders on the Wildcat soccer team that finished second in the state in Class 2A at the 2014 IHSA Soccer State Finals.
COLE STEWARD, STUDENT-ATHLETE
One of two current student-athletes on the advisory council, Cole is a sophomore at Salem High School, where he participates in three sports (baseball, basketball, football). He has grown up around sports, as his father Scott coached football at the high school level for over 20 years and currently serves as Salem High School’s Athletic Director.
At the time of this post I will be at a press conference in Bloomington, IL discussing this Council at the headquarters of the IHSA, if there is available links or video I will pass that along.
This is the reason I have come back to the blog – not to trumpet my achievements – rather to pass along the very exciting news about the progressive nature of the IHSA, creating a forward thinking Council with relative “outsiders” willing to help and make a difference. One of the questions asked about this honorable position was about sharing what has been decided upon in the Council; not only was it OK it is encouraged that we spread the word about player safety initiatives this Council has promoted. This is another reason for the blog to come “back to life”, for dissemination of information. I don’t think the blog will go back to the extremely active past it once was but there will be more information than the past.
This is truly an honor to be selected for this Council and I am going to give it my best effort, while remaining the person I am. I do not want to see sports, especially contact sports, disappear from the choices of our student athletes. Sports provide a great outlet as well as learning ground for life and life’s lessons it needs to be protected, protected by progressive thinking and actions – not reactionary and archaic methods.
I am proud to be serving on this Council for as long as they will have me, the five years of educating from an athletic trainer perspective and fostering the great discussion on concussion has been worth it.