ND & MN rank low for high school athlete safety

(Valley News Live & KARE 11) With high school sports starting up across the county, a new study ranks both North Dakota and Minnesota among the worst at protecting student-athletes from sudden death.

North Dakota came in ranked 42nd, and Minnesota was ranked 47th.

"We are very proactive and preventative, working with a nationally recognized sports medicine advisory committee," said Jody Redman, an Associate Director with the Minnesota State High School League. "And then, really working with our athletic administrators and coaches."

The study itself is born out of tragedy.

Sixteen years ago this month, Vikings Pro Bowl lineman Korey Stringer died from heat stroke. In 2010, his wife Kelci created the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. They say their mission is to make preparing for an emergency a top priority in schools.

"Unfortunately, many states make massive policy changes after they have a death in their particular state or have a series of tragedies. So we're trying to institute a policy of do whatever you can before they die," said Dr. Douglas Casa, who works with the Korey Stringer Institute.

For this study, the Korey Stringer Institute analyzed how all 50 states and DC are implementing policies to prepare for four major causes of sudden death: cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, heat stroke, and exertional sickling.

"The first five or ten minutes really dictate if the athlete lives or dies," said Casa.

Even the Minnesota State High School League isn't quite sure why the state is ranked so low, saying they actually created an emergency training program, Anyone Can Save A Life.

"From that, we partnered with Medtronic to develop a program that would help our schools be prepared to deal with all kinds of life-threatening emergencies," said Redman.

In a statement on Wednesday, the National Federation of State High School Associations said (in part):

"Unfortunately, the Korey Stringer Institute has proclaimed itself as judge and jury of heat-illness prevention and other safety issues by ranking the 51 NFHS-member state high school associations - these very associations that have been promoting risk-minimization precautions in their schools' athletic programs for many more years than the seven-year existence of the KSI."

"While the 19,000 high schools range in size from 50 students to 5,000 there has never been a time that coaches, athletic directors and school administrators were more focused on risk minimization."

"Very simply, a review of state association websites, such as the one employed by KSI, is an incomplete measurement of the efforts employed by states to assist their member schools with heat, heart and head issues. Providing more research data, as well as funds to enact more prevention programs, would be much more useful than giving grades to these associations."

We have a link to the study results attached to this story.