On The Fence

11/4/2015, 4:12 p.m.
The Honorable LeRoy K. Martin Jr. of the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled in favor of the Illinois High ...
Bobby Leach

The Honorable LeRoy K. Martin Jr. of the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled in favor of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) last week, granting the IHSA’s motion to dismiss a class action football concussion lawsuit filed during last year’s IHSA Football State Championship games.

“The IHSA’s top priority for over 100 years has been to encourage broad-based participation in interscholastic programs while minimizing risk of injury to the greatest extent possible,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “We maintain that the way to make high school football in Illinois safer is not through divisive lawsuits, but rather through collaborative efforts with key stakeholders. We have followed this practice for years, and it’s obvious the Court agrees with our approach. “

The IHSA launched its “Play Smart. Play Hard.” campaign last May to help spotlight the numerous steps that the Association and its membership have made in the name of safety across all sports, including football. In conjunction, the Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety, a new committee consisting of Certified Athletic Trainers, student-athletes, coaches, officials, parents and other invested constituents also made its debut. The group works in conjunction with the IHSA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, reviewing current IHSA programs and offering new recommendations.

In Judge Martin’s 10-page order granting dismissal with prejudice, he supported the IHSA’s progressive safety record, saying: “In fact, it is clear to this court that IHSA has acted to protect student athletes in this State.”

The IHSA is represented in the matter by Thomas J. Heiden and Michael J. Nelson of Latham & Watkins in Chicago.

“This is a good result for high school sports in Illinois and across the country,” said Heiden. “This means the IHSA can continue to work alongside the legislature, school boards, coaches, parents, and students in their efforts to promote safety in high school sports.”

Last month, Andre Smith, a senior at Bogan High School died after sustaining an injury in a high school football contest. Smith was the seventh high school player to die in a contest this season and the first in Illinois since 2012, when a Hall High School student died from complications related to an enlarged heart.

“This ruling energizes our efforts to continue to make all sports safer for high school student-athletes in Illinois,” said Hickman. “The tragedy that occurred with Andre Smith, and situations like it, are what drive us and those who work to make all levels of sports safer for the participants.”