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Kadner: ‘Rocky’s Law’ kicks in with school year

Rocky Clark former Eisenhower high school football player who became quadriplegic after his neck was broken while being tackled during

Rocky Clark, a former Eisenhower high school football player who became a quadriplegic after his neck was broken while being tackled during a play in 2000, was cared for by his mother Annette. Clark passed away in 2012. | FILE PHOTO

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Updated: October 1, 2013 6:34AM



As thousands of high school football players take the field Friday to launch their season, for the first time in Illinois history they will be insured against catastrophic injury.

Under “Rocky’s Law,” named for former Eisenhower High School football player Rasul “Rocky” Clark, every high school athlete in Illinois must be covered by a $3 million insurance policy against catastrophic injury.

Some school districts have gone far beyond what the law requires. Consolidated High School District 230 (Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg high schools) will insure players for $6 million.

In addition, District 230’s policy requires a student’s family to cover only the first $25,000 of medical costs resulting from an injury. Under the state law, parents must pay for the initial $50,000 in medical expenses.

Like most school districts in Illinois prior to “Rocky’s Law,” District 230 did not provide catastrophic insurance coverage for its student-athletes.

“Rocky’s Law” was passed after years of lobbying by the Gridiron Alliance, an organization that raised funds to pay medical bills for high school athletes in Illinois who had suffered catastrophic injury.

Clark, of Robbins, became the rallying point for the cause following his death in 2012 at 27. He became a quadriplegic in September 2000 when he was tackled during a football game against Oak Forest.

Community High School District 218, which includes Eisenhower, was the only district in Illinois at the time to provide catastrophic insurance for all of its students, not just athletes.

But after 10 years, Clark had maxed out his $5 million worth of insurance, and he and his mother went public with a plea for help that eventually resulted in the passage of the new law.

The law limits the insurance coverage to five years, a flaw that advocates hope to correct in future sessions of the Legislature.

Under the law, the Illinois High School Association is responsible for making sure that every high school provides such insurance for student-athletes, and it must provide a group policy that schools can participate in.

“I would say 500 of our 800 member schools as of (Wednesday) had submitted proof of compliance,” IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said. “They have either signed up with us to provide the insurance, or they can provide a certificate of insurance from their own insurance carrier demonstrating they comply with the law.

“The CPS (Chicago Public Schools) has the right to self-insure under the law, and I assume that’s what they are doing,” Hickman said. “We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to implement this because the governor signed the law on Aug. 4 and it became effective Aug. 5, the next day. But were are doing our best to comply with the law.”

The chief sponsors of Rocky’s Law included state Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor), a former professional football player, and state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest).

District 230 spokeswoman Carla Erdey said the cost of the district’s catastrophic insurance through AIG is $1,284 per school, or a total of $3,852.

By my calculations, that comes to $1.21 for each of the 4,974 students who participate in athletic programs and IHSA-sanctioned clubs, such as chess, speech, cheerleading and marching band.

My math might be off a little bit on that because Erdey explained that some of the student-athletes also participate in other IHSA activities, meaning they would be counted twice in my equation.

Nevertheless, it has long been the contention of Deacon Don Grossnickle, a founder of the Gridiron Alliance, that catastrophic insurance could be purchased for less than a Starbucks coffee, and he appears to be right.

Although the state law does not specify how catastrophic insurance is to be funded, Erdey said District 230 is picking up the cost and decided to provide twice as much coverage because the policy was cheaper than expected.

Grossnickle had suggested that the IHSA encourage schools to increase the cost of ticket prices at high school athletic events by 25 cents to cover the insurance cost or sponsor donation booths at its state tournaments to raise the money. Neither recommendation seemed to gain traction.

But the IHSA did aggressively notify school districts of the necessity to comply with the law, according to several high school superintendents and athletic directors I contacted. The districts received emails, letters and phone calls informing them of the need to obtain catastrophic insurance before the school year began, I was told.

The number of catastrophic injuries at high school sporting events is rather small — about six a year result in paralysis, according to some estimates — the financial consequences can be devastating. Annette Clark has said that her son’s care cost more than $1 million in the first year alone.

In addition, maintenance care for such injuries is ongoing and expensive — requiring special beds, physical therapy, catheters, daily nursing care, ongoing visits to physicians, and often, recurring visits to a hospital.

Grossnickle has said that few families are prepared for such consequences when their youngsters sign up for a sports program.

“You know, almost every high school has a day where their coaches talk to parents and students about good sportsmanship and what’s required of them before a season begins,” he said. “But I have never heard of any coach explaining to parents the potential for catastrophic injury and what that could mean to them. I think that should be required, especially now that we know more about the consequences of head trauma and concussions.”

District 218 Supt. John Byrne said the district this school year will provide $7.5 million in catastrophic insurance coverage for every student, not just those involved with IHSA-sanctioned activities.

That insurance takes effect after the first $25,000 in medical costs, but Byrne said his district purchased a second policy to cover that cost as well for every student.

“The total cost for both policies is about $18,000 for 6,000 students,” he said. “These are kids, dang it. We ought to protect them. And the fact is that we have a lot of families in our district who couldn’t afford that first $25,000.

“I think Grossnickle is right, and that for the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks we can make sure all these kids are covered,” Byrne continued. “You hope no one ever needs it. But if they do, it’s just the right thing to provide it. The responsible thing.”

I can’t say it any better than that.



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