New sickle cell guidelines impact campus sports

Contributing Writer

Nine student athletes gathered in Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Finnegan Fieldhouse Sunday evening to view a presentation on sickle cell trait.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform the students of the risk and allow them to waive their right to blood testing.

Following a vote at an NCAA convention in Grapevine, Texas last January, NCAA standards changed to require all student-athletes at the Division III level to complete the testing.

This spring 2014 semester will be the last semester that the waiver meeting takes place at Franciscan University.

“We offered the waiver option to make the process of becoming an NCAA athlete more affordable and simple,” said Cassandra Pyle, compliance assistant at Franciscan University.

Beginning next semester, all athletes will have to have blood drawn and tested before being cleared to play.

“If the tests show a student is sickle positive, they will hopefully be cleared to play,” said Pyle. “The knowledge of the results will just allow us to take the proper precautions as they are needed.”

The presentation was approximately 30 minutes long. The athletes watched three informative videos by the NCAA Sports Science Institute. The videos outlined risk, prevention and how to avoid injury. They also broke down the science of sickle cell so that it was easily understood. At the end of the meeting, all of the athletes present signed the release waiver.

According to the NCAA fact sheet for student athletes, sickle cell trait is the inheritance of one gene for sickle hemoglobin and one for normal hemoglobin. It is not a disease, but is a life-long condition that will not change over time.

The fact sheet further explains that the “sickling” occurs when, during intense exercise, red blood cells with the sickle hemoglobin change shape from round to quarter moon or “sickle.”

The unusual shape causes circulation problems that can cause, but are not limited to, anemia, severe pain, swollen extremities, infections and vision problems.

“The idea of sickle cell trait testing in Division III has been controversial from many viewpoints, including logistics,” said Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer.

According to Hainline, some decisions must be reached by blending not only science, but philosophy, ethics and practical reason as well.

“I firmly believe that knowledge of sickle cell trait status is important for all student-athletes,” Hainline said.

Sickle cell testing is already mandatory for the Division I and Division II levels. Mandatory testing for Franciscan University goes in effect August, 2014.

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