by Jessica Pasley
The Safe Stars youth sports safety rating system is expanding to include private schools and community youth sports organizations participating on public property.
Safe Stars is a collaboration between the Vanderbilt Youth Sports Health Center and the Tennessee Department of Health and was originally aimed at public schools statewide when it debuted in 2021.
“The original Safe Stars law only effected public middle and high schools,” said Alex Diamond, DO, MPH, co-founder of the program and associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Pediatrics and Neurological Surgery and director of the Youth Sports Health Center at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
“This moves us closer to creating a positive, safe and healthy environment across the state at all levels of sport for all our kids and teens.
“I’m thrilled about this change because it really starts to get at the heart of what Safe Stars was created to do,” he said. “We continue to move in the right direction, continue to move the ball down the field and get more schools and organizations invested in following established and best-practice safety protocols to limit risk and allow for the most enjoyable and meaningful experiences for our young athletes and their families.”
The Safe Stars initiative involves implementation of policies around topics such as concussion, sudden cardiac arrest, weather safety, injury prevention, codes of conduct, and safeguarding to prevent abuse.
“In the youth sports world there is no one overarching group to regulate the safety and health of its participants, so Safe Stars provides that net for the entire state of Tennessee,” said Diamond. “Sports has the power to transform lives, but it doesn’t just happen by rolling out the balls. We all have the responsibility to make sure that happens in a safe and constructive way.”
Diamond said the interest in expanding the law came from two members of the Tennessee Legislature after the life-threatening injury to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during an NFL game in early 2023.
Hamlin went into cardiac arrest, was administered CPR, and with the use of an AED his heartbeat was revived on the field.
Safe Stars consists of three levels — Gold, Silver and Bronze. The criteria for achieving recognition as a Safe Stars league at one of these levels has been developed by a committee of health professionals dedicated to reducing sports-related injuries among youth. Safe Stars is a free program, and all resources needed to meet the required criteria are vetted and provided by the committee to increase ease of implementation.
Diamond said the expanded new law goes into effect July 1.
“From the beginning we have sought for this to be a program by the community and for the community. The success we are seeing would not be possible without their continued support,” he said.
The initiative, backed by more than 40 community partners across the state, continues to garner widespread support and attention.
Various states have reached out to inquire about the law and how to partner with agencies within their own jurisdictions to implement.
Next on the Safe Stars agenda: helping schools and community youth sports organizations go above and beyond the mandated minimum bronze level and achieve the more powerful silver and gold levels. Also, adding nontraditional youth activities, like the performing arts, dance, gymnastics and martial arts to the list of those providing healthy and safe programs.
Additionally, the Youth Sports Health and Safety Conference, set for July 14, will host leading experts on pediatric sports medicine, sport-related concussion, physical and mental health, rehabilitation and team medicine speaking on a variety of health, wellness and injury topics affecting young athletes.
All conference attendees will have the opportunity to be trained in CPR and AED use that meets requirements for the Safe Stars law.
Conference sessions will provide continuing education credit for all levels of health care professionals, athletic administrators, teachers and coaches.