Medical care for our children at play extremely vital

The schoolboy football season has begun with 42 schools entering the Manning Cup and 89 schools entering the DaCosta Cup competitions. If you estimate that each squad has 20 of our children involved in pre-season training, and now the term-long competition, it means that 2,620 kids are involved in representing their schools in one of the most media scrutinized competitions for children.
Our schools are in fact specialized educational institutions charged with educating and socializing Jamaica’s children. Football is one of the extra-curricular activities that assist these institutions in providing the rounded “holistic” education every parent craves for their offspring. However, the primary focus must be academics, the three “R’s” — Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. To me, extra-curricular means just that, extra, in addition to. Sports should not, cannot be the primary reason for attending school. The vexed habit of transferring/buying students of proven ability and talent from school (A) to school (B) for the sole purpose of winning is wrong for several reasons.
In an ideal world, the student bought/transferred from Woi School to the name brand counterpart should be enabled in a quest to either get a post-high school scholarship to further his education or to get access to teachers/facilities not available at Woi School. What in fact happens is that students who are academically challenged, but who have exceptional ball skills are used, and ultimately abused, as their academic needs are subjugated to training/practice and game time.
The Inter Secondary Schools Association (ISSA) recognizes this reality and has (to its credit) initiated rules regarding “transfers” that are supposed to make these migrations for the sole purpose of winning, difficult. Unfortunately, the practice continues unabated. I do recall one prominent (name brand) school parading eight starters on a team that were “transfers” from other schools. Thankfully that dark underside of schoolboy football is being tackled by groups of concerned individuals who are determined to “level the playing field” in our children’s competitive sports.
My focus today is on the medical care of the approximately 2,620 of our children now involved in the two named competitions. ISSA has declared in writing that at every match schools should have present:
(1) trained medical personnel ;
(2) First aid kits on the side lines, (some schools through the generosity of past pupils and/or concerned groups, have Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available at the grounds;
(3) stretchers;
(4) designated vehicle for transportation of injured players to a medical facility (ambulances preferred but this desire is restricted by economic factors); and
(5) nearby medical facilities must be informed prior to game time that their services may be required, thus reducing waiting time for attention to the injured child.
These requirements (in writing) are a response to the untimely demise of children involved in sports who were not known to have medical conditions that would have a negative impact on their lives IF they were involved in strenuous physical activity. The Pre-Participation Evaluation (PPE) by a trained sports medicine physician should be mandatory for all participants in ISSA-controlled competitions. We are not there yet.
The Sportsmax initiated and partially sponsored Under 18 Inter Parish football competition earlier this year made evaluation for Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) mandatory. This enabled over 400 of our young boys to be evaluated, with some interesting findings.
One day (I hope) such a programme will be mandatory for all ISSA-controlled competitions. The SCA consists of examination for visual deficiencies, height, weight, hemoglobin, blood cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, dental examinations, muscular/skeletal assessments, and neurological status via a Digital Symbol Substitution Test (DSST).
Finally, a multi-lead ECG, read by a trained sports medicine physician with cardiologist back-up for assessment of unusual tracings is also required. Some schools have already availed themselves of this important assessment, but by my estimation there are still approximately 2,000 of our children playing football this season without comprehensive evaluation. We need to do better for our children.
The Jamaica Association of Sports Medicine, in conjunction with the new (and amazingly controversial) University of the West Indies Faculty of Sports had its annual conference recently with the theme being ‘The Child Athlete — Ages 5 to 17 years’. Local medical experts presented topics ranging from muscular (“Mommy my feet hurt”), Neurological (“Long term risks of contact sports”), Mental (“The mind set of today’s athlete”), Nutritional (“Managing nutritional needs on meet day”), Disability (“Managing the disabled paediatric athlete”), Drugs and sports (“TUE’s changing requirements”), and Social (“Abuse and sexual harassment”).
The conference was well attended, but although more and more of us involved in managing and taking care of our children at play were there, the paucity of representation from the “ones that matter” — Government and ISSA — suggests that the road to comprehensive medical care of our children at play is a long one littered with pot holes and obstacles, but the journey has started. Let us continue. Spread the word.

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