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Safety in sports

Some sounds are part of the summer symphony: Kids splashing in a swimming pool, the whack of a ball hitting a bat, skateboard wheels on asphalt, the cheering crowds at different venues.

Others are accents, but nonetheless common: a moan, an ambulance siren, the gentle whir of the emergency room door.Thousands of Utah children - and many adults, too - will pass a portion of the summer in softball leagues, soccer teams, sports camps and swim teams. They'll organize pick-up games in the city parks, play volleyball on specific nights or enroll in sports-based child-care programs.

Unfortunately, with sports fun comes the risk of sports injury. Every year, across the United States, more than 775,000 children 14 and under are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries. Few statistics are kept on how many adults are injured participating in sports. But according to the American College of Sports Medicine, almost half of all sports injuries are preventable.

The extent of the injuries can range from a simple sprain or strain to abrasions, broken bones and even injuries serious enough to kill. As many as 22 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys will be injured during the summer sport season.

The Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross hopes to improve summer safety with a special sports-safety training program, designed for coaches, program organizers and parents. Besides teaching Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), the program offers basic first aid tailored to preventing, recognizing and treating common sports injuries. It's a bit of everything, from taping a sprain to stopping bleeding, from treating shock to restarting a human heart.

The program was developed jointly by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the American Red Cross, according to Diane Smith, health and safety director of the latter. The American Red Cross will provide the training and the Olympic committee plans to mandate that any coach, at whatever level, who wants to use Olympic training facilities will have to have the special training certificate the class provides. But the agency believes anyone who coaches or takes part in the summer sports frenzy should learn the skills available.

The most common injuries for young athletes occur with warm up and stretching - or the lack of it. The youths also need to be able to recognize when they're overexerted, Smith said. And heat exhaustion, "especially in Utah," is a problem. "They have to make sure they're drinking enough water."

Some of what is taught will be quite basic. For instance, the simple guidelines to help active children remain safe while playing sports are these: Get a medical examination. Warm up. Keep hydrated. Don't ignore pain or injuries. Cool down. And get the training.

Some conditions that lead to injuries are out of the coach's control, said Smith. Weather, for instance. And the things athletes do on their own time, like unsafe health practices such as poor nutrition and inadequate conditioning, are harder for the coach to control. But a well-trained coach can learn to recognize some of the away-from-the-game behaviors that lead to injuries. "A big one anymore is someone returning to play before an injury is completely healed," she said.

The class also focuses on different types of burns and how to control bleeding.

Although thousands of people participate in sports and the information is terribly important, the class is under-used, Smith said. "It hasn't found its niche yet. A lot of coaches don't even get basic first aid or CPR. Most youth coaches are volunteers and that's six or seven more hours they'd have to donate to get the extra training."

Whether the course is 6.5 or 7 hours depends on whether child CPR is desired. Smith and company are more than happy to schedule classes to meet the needs of small groups of trainees, keeping the numbers down to 10 or 12. Some groups want a single, Saturday class. Others want two night classes.

The main thing is learning the skills to keep athletes both young and old safe.

"We are trying to work with agencies to encourage them and their coaches to take the training," Smith said. "Some of the high schools are implementing it."

They hope parents will pressure the camps, teams and leagues their children play with to see that all adult supervisors have the special sports safety training, as well.

The American Red Cross is the only agency providing this training and certification is good for three years for the first-aid, injury prevention portion and one year for the CPR training.

For more information, call 323-3000.