Letter to the Editor

As a former Division III student-athlete and as someone who has spent the last decade and a half working with student-athletes in higher education, our athletes’ well-being and overall experience is critically important to me, and to everyone in my department.

While we cannot comment on a specific student’s medical treatment, we can review some key facts about our protocol, which are in direct contrast to the account published in the Miscellany News on May 3rd.

First, our coaches are not involved in return to play decisions for student-athletes.  Per NCAA best practices, when a student-athlete is injured or ill – for example has a potential head injury or heat stroke, as cited here – the decision regarding treatment, and the timing for being cleared to play is exclusively in the hands of our sports medicine staff, or the host institution if a team is travelling without a member of the VC sports medicine staff. That sports medicine staff could include any of our College health services professionals, referred specialists, and our certified athletic trainers.

If a student-athlete has been determined to have an injury or illness that requires them not to play or practice, the sports medicine staff will work with head coaches to develop an appropriate progression for physical activities when a student-athlete is cleared to return to play.

In regard to concussions, Vassar College has a very specific and stringent protocol, which is predicated on the following key points below:

  • Vassar follows a concussion/return to play protocol that is in keeping with best practices as recommended by the NCAA.
  • No student-athlete can begin the return to play activity progression or competitions until they have passed ImPact testing and are at baseline symptom levels in limited, controlled, and full-contact activities, and cleared by Baldwin Health Services Medical Staff or designee and Vassar College Sports Medicine Staff. There are no exceptions to that rule.

Regarding the question of potential heat stroke, when our team is home, certified athletic trainers or Emergency Medical Technicians are on hand during games. If a student-athlete exhibits and/or reports experiencing symptoms, they are seen immediately. The athletic trainer or EMT then determines whether the student-athlete can continue to play. If the determination is made that the student-athlete not play, then our sports medicine staff re-examines the student-athlete prior to the next athletic event or practice and determines whether they can be cleared to play at that time.  For away-from-home contests when a member of the VC sports medicine staff is not present, medical care is provided by the host institution.

Regarding dietary questions, the Department of Athletics and Physical Education believes that healthy nutrition is critical to the success of our student-athletes both on and off the field.  In order for students to have as much information as possible about making good food choices, our RISE (Responsibility, Integrity, Sportsmanship, and Excellence) program hosted a Food and Nutrition Panel this past spring.

Lastly, our department has several mechanisms in place for student-athletes to provide feedback on their experiences; these include but are not limited to annual evaluations as well as in-person exit interviews with senior student-athletes.   We also work hand-in-hand with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), whose role includes providing insight on the student athlete experience by giving input on Vassar rules, regulations, and policies to athletics department administrators.  Student-athletes have had and will continue to have a strong voice in our department. I am proud of the work that our coaches, athletic trainers, and other support staff have accomplished in concert with student-athletes in the furtherance of their education and pursuit of success, both on and off the field.

Again, I will not comment on a specific student. I would urge anyone with questions or concerns to contact me directly at michwalsh@vassar.edu.

Michelle Walsh

Director of Athletics and Physical Education

Vassar College

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