La Jolla High assistant football coach dismissed months after incident

An assistant La Jolla High School football coach has been dismissed, after allegations that he kept a player in a game who said he was not feeling well, following head-on contact with another player, Oct. 16, in a game against Point Loma High School.

It was later determined the player (unnamed due to privacy concerns) had sustained a concussion. He reportedly has migraines so severe he has not been able to attend a full day of school since the incident.

The story, first published Jan. 5 by the online news source, Voice of San Diego (VOSD), said the 17-year-old junior varsity player allegedly told assistant coach Steven Wachs that he was feeling disoriented, but was sent back into the game, according to his father and La Jolla High head football coach Jason Carter.

According to VOSD, the student asked if he could sit out, but Carter said Wachs refused his request, telling the student to “suck it up” and keep playing. The boy’s father told VOSD his son was vomiting on the sidelines (one of the indicators of a head injury), although it is not clear whether the father witnessed his son vomiting or learned about it afterward.

Speaking with VOSD, Wachs, who was later placed on suspension, disputed any prior knowledge of the student’s injury.

Responding to questions from La Jolla Light via e-mail, Ursula Kroemer, chief public information officer for the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), said disciplinary issues are confidential, although she said, “Mr. Wachs is not scheduled to return” next season.

Asked whether the school district has reimbursed the student’s family for his medical expenses, Kroemer said she was “not aware that this has happened or been requested.”

State rules require all coaches to undergo training to identify possible head trauma, and a new state late that went into effect Jan. 1 (Assembly Bill 2127) limits middle school and high school students to 90 minutes of full-contact football drills twice per week. AB 2127 also bans full-contact practice during the off-season and requires the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to create a protocol for any athlete who suffers a concussion.

Kroemer said SDUSD officials “take the health and safety of our students very seriously — both off the field and on — and regularly review our protocols to make sure they are in keeping with recommended practices by both the medical and athletic community.”

All athletic coaches in the SDUSD are required to participate in the state-mandated, CIF Program, as well as the National Federation of State High Schools Association’s “Concussion in Sports” course, and produce a certificate before they can be hired by the district, Kroemer said.

“Starting next (school) year, they will also be required to take a cardiac symptoms class,” she added. “There has been heightened awareness of late on the issue of concussion-related injuries and as a district we are applying more scrutiny to our review processes.

“Dr. Howard Taras, our district physician, has started drafting a concussion protocol that he will roll out with the (school district’s) Nursing and Wellness team (this) week, and then with all P.E. faculty/staff to better identify steps we need to take when it is reported or suspected that a student may have suffered a concussion.

“This will be modeled after the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) ‘Return to Learn’ guidelines to make sure a student’s return-to-school process after a concussion is inclusive of all school professionals, the student and his or her family and his or her healthcare team.” (Look for more information about Dr. Taras concussion protocol later this week at and in next week’s edition).

“Concurrent with this effort,” Kroemer added, “the CIF Board of Managers this week is asked to consider the approval of CIF Bylaw 503H Concussion Protocol Revision.”

In 2010, the CIF passed Bylaw 503H that required physicians sign a “Return to Play” form for any student suspected of having a concussion, Kroemer said. The proposed revision (which has made its way successfully through the CIF with the final step being approval by its Board of Managers) “would further provide that, if a licensed health care provider determines the athlete sustained a concussion or a head injury, the athlete is required to complete a gradual return-to-play protocol of no less than seven days under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.”