IHSA, local high school football teams take up safety measures following Damar Hamlin scare

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — We were all stunned last January when Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a Monday night football game in Cincinnati. It’s something we don’t expect to see when we watch a sporting event. Fortunately for Hamlin there were trained medical personnel at the stadium who were able to revive him. The Illinois High School Association wants to ensure the same response for our high school athletes.

How could someone so young, so physically fit, collapse of cardiac arrest? That’s what flashed through the minds of everyone during that Monday night in January.

Byron Head football coach Jeff Boyer was watching that game. “At first you think neck injury or something like that, but just the way he went down and where he was hit, I thought, you know, that’s got to be some sort of heart issue.”

Stillman Valley head football coach Mike Lalor was also watching. “We just happened to flip the game on about five minutes before that happened, and when he went down they showed the first replay, oddly enough, that was the first thing I thought was I think he just had a heart attack.”

Rochelle head football coach Kyle Kissack just happened to be at the game in Cincinnati with his son.

“It was a moment that was something that we’ll never forget. Having those trainers and doctors immediately available it saved his life.”

IHSA administrators were thinking the same thing, so they issued a directive in June for this school year that all coaches are required to complete training in CPR and training on an AED, an Automated External Defibrillator.

“It (an AED) can check the rhythm of the heart, so it can see if there is any rhythm or it tells you if there’s not,” said Byron trainer Chantel O’Rorke of Athletico. “If there’s not, it might say you need to administer a shock, and it can try to shock to see if it can get the heart going again.”

Local schools got right on the training requirements this summer. Harlem High School was very thorough. Jason Lubben is the athletic trainer at Harlem also through Athletico Physical Therapy.

“We were very proactive. We did 75 certifications this year through all of our head coaches, our assistant coaches, as well as some of my sports medicine student athletic trainers here at Harlem.”

Lubben says Harlem has multiple AED devices on school grounds.

“We’ve got one right here (at the football stadium) for football. We’ve got one over at tennis. We’ve got one over at baseball. We’ve got one inside, one outside the athletic director’s office, one inside of my office. So, we’re very well equipped with all this.”

The IHSA has declared that “At no time may a team practice, travel or compete without at least one adult present who has met this (training) requirement.”

You won’t find anyone who disagrees with the IHSA mandates.

“We have a fantastic training staff here at Rochelle,” said Kissack. “All of our coaches are trained, so we feel very comfortable with where we’re at.”

It’s a coach’s nightmare to see a player go down and lay motionless as Hamlin did.

“We’ve had it happen say, twice over the years,” said Lalor. “Somebody that got hit in the head, and they were, just for a few seconds lost consciousness, and those seconds feel like minutes or hours. It is your worst, worst feeling, worst nightmare.”

“That’s the last thing that’s supposed to be happening from going out and playing a fun game, and so hopefully it’ll never happen, but hopefully we’re all prepared if it ever did.”

Boyer agrees. “We never want to see anything like that happen to a kid, but if it were to happen, we want to be prepared and ready to go just like they were in that game and really saved his life.”

It’s not only athletes who can suffer cardiac arrest during sporting events. Fans, coaches and officials could also go through that making the IHSA’s training requirements even more necessary.