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New Oklahoma Law Aimed At Preventing Tragedy On The Field

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Justin Barney, who died of a head injury during a 2007 football game. Justin Barney, who died of a head injury during a 2007 football game.
Friends of Justin Barney hold a candlelight service. Friends of Justin Barney hold a candlelight service.
Medical volunteers at athletic events will be protected under the Good Samaritan law. Medical volunteers at athletic events will be protected under the Good Samaritan law.

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A state lawmaker is tackling sideline medical care by encouraging doctors and nurses to volunteer at high school games. Starting in January, those volunteers will be protected from being sued. 

Dozens gathered in this small Oklahoma town to pray for a fallen player. It was 2007, and 14-year-old Justin Barney sustained a severe head injury during a football game.

He died in the hospital, two weeks later.

"We don't blame football. This was a very unfortunate accident," said Justin's uncle.

Rush Springs Representative Joe Dorman says there were no doctors on the field, and that could have made a difference in Justin's case. So he pushed for House Bill 1658 to encourage doctors and nurses to volunteer in case of an emergency at a high school sporting event.

The law treats these volunteers as Good Samaritans and protects them from being sued, except in cases of gross negligence. But some say emergency sideline or courtside care isn't enough.

"Honestly, it's just a little band-aid on a huge, huge problem, not just here in Oklahoma but everywhere," said Union Athletic Trainer Dan Newman.

Dan Newman works at Union High School as a full-time, certified athletic trainer. He says a 2008 survey of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activity Association found only 17 percent of participating schools had access to a certified trainer.

"Yeah, it's pretty disheartening," Newman said. "I mean if we're playing athletics there should be a certified trainer on site every day."

Representative Dorman says it would cost schools millions to make that happen.

"These [volunteer] medical providers will hopefully assist with treating an injury immediately and reduce the likelihood of long-term side effects or worse," he said in an email.

Newman says it's not just the emergency, but after that needs to be addressed.

"It's the everyday coverage. It's the everyday follow-up that student athletes need that kind of care and help them get back on the field faster and safer," said Dan Newman, a certified athletic trainer with Union Public Schools.

Football takes plenty of heat, but those aren't the only student athletes who get hurt.  Newman says he's helped treat two concussions this year for cheerleading.

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