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Life-threatening injury during Monday Night Football puts focus on MHSA's emergency action plans

Josh Allen
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jan 03, 2023

BUTTE — The harrowing, nationally broadcasted scene that unfolded at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati during Monday Night Football resonated across the country.

The cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin — and the ensuing efforts to keep the 24-year-old alive — shocked a primetime audience, prompted NFL brass to postpone the game, and is sure to compel sports teams at all levels to assess their readiness to respond to a similar emergency.

The Montana High School Association is no different.

In an emailed response to MTN Sports on Tuesday, MHSA Executive Director Brian Michelotti said "this incident has challenged governing bodies at all levels across the country to review policies regarding emergency action plans (EAP), first responders and medical professionals at practices and events."

Michelotti said he's certain this topic — ensuring that the proper personnel and equipment is on hand in case a player's heart stops beating — will be addressed at the upcoming NFHS winter meeting.

"The MHSA and member schools are committed to creating a safe environment for participation in sports and activities across our state," Michelotti said.

Having an Automated External Defibrillator ready to be quickly deployed likely saved Hamlin's life. Michelotti said that, while there's no MHSA mandate regarding AED's to be present, most high schools in the state have them and have someone on staff trained to use it.

"Multiple AED's are located on our high school campuses, so games are played and practices are held with AED's available," he said. "Most of our school population has a trainer or medical professional present at games. Almost all MHSA schools require a first aid course for their coaches. This is a standard across the state."

In the Mining City, longtime Butte Central head football coach Don Peoples Jr. said he believes his team — and all teams in Butte — are well-prepared to handle cardiac arrest crises.

Teams at Central, Butte High and Montana Tech contract with the Montana Sports Medicine program at St. James Healthcare, which provides an athletic trainer that always has an AED ready to go at practices and games.

"I think we've done a good job of having plans and protocols and making sure we have medical professionals with us at all times," Peoples said.

Peoples also said that all coaches at Central are CPR certified and that paramedics are on hand at all home football varsity and JV games as well as either a physician or physician's assistant.

While Hamlin's life-threatening injury has turned a spotlight onto the mounting health concerns regarding the game of football, Peoples noted that cardiac arrest is something that can happen in just about any contact sport.

And he said that the incident is sure to make coaches, athletic directors and trainers redouble their efforts to make sure they're ready to act if their team experiences an emergency like the one that transpired on Monday.

"It just emphasizes the importance of being prepared and having those protocols in place," Peoples said.

And while teams across the country will need to reassess their emergency action plans, the national focus right now is on Hamlin, who is currently listed in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Hospital.

"Our prayers go out to the young man," Peoples said. "Hopefully he'll recover well."