071117 bill signing1 kw.jpg

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, center, talks with Tom Steigers, father of Dylan Steigers who died from head injuries sustained in a college football scrimmage in 2010, and Jill Olson, director of the Dylan Steigers Concussion Project, Monday afternoon in Missoula before signing a bill expanding the requirements of concussion awareness in youth and young adult sports.

Gov. Steve Bullock's youngest child is going into fifth grade, and the father said his son is excited to play contact football.

As a father, Bullock said he, too, is thrilled for his son, but he's also fearful for his safety on the field.

"You're terrified for what can happen," said Bullock, a Democrat.

Monday, Bullock held a signing ceremony for a law that he said is going to help protect young athletes.

"I know that because of Dylan, because of Tom, because of the work in this community, that my son and every other kid in this state are much safer," Bullock said.

In 2010, Dylan Steigers died from head injuries sustained in an Eastern Oregon University football scrimmage. He was 22.

Since then, his parents, Tom and Cyndi Steigers, and the Dylan Steigers Concussion Project have been working to spread awareness about how to protect young athletes from brain injuries.

An earlier law called the Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act requires public schools to adopt policies that educate coaches, parents and others on the "nature and risk of brain injuries, including the effects of continuing to play after a concussion."

This year, the 2017 Montana Legislature approved and Gov. Bullock signed a bill that expands the requirements to private schools and youth athletic organizations. House Bill 487 is effective Oct. 1, 2017.

In addition to adopting policies to educate coaches and parents, private schools and other organizations also must document that they've provided those educational materials and "ensure access to a training program," according to the bill language. 

Monday, Tom Steigers said his son probably received more than half of his concussions outside of organized sports, and outside of high school sports.

"We knew all along that you weren't going to take care of the problem or even start to address it by only focusing on the high school realm," Steigers said. "You had to expand it to all areas of sports."

The expanded law does just that, he said.

Last year, Steigers walked 368 miles from Missoula to La Grande, Oregon, where his son was injured, as part of his healing. Going forward, he said he and his wife will lend moral support to the cause as needed.

Jill Olson, director of the Dylan Steigers Concussion Project and owner of Peak Performance Physical Therapy, said the mission of the concussion project is to educate, test and protect. She values the bill because it supports education.

The earlier bill protected youth playing only sanctioned sports, she said, but the new one also covers young people playing sports that aren't sanctioned.

"Our biggest concern is the plethora of concussions that we see in youth that are unidentified, mismanaged, minimized and marginalized," Olson said. "And this law will help provide some boundaries and structure for coaches and parents to now lean into."

At the ceremony in the Missoula City Council Chambers, a couple of legislators who worked to get the law passed thanked those who brought the issue to their attention. 

Rep. Moffie Funk, a Helena Democrat and primary sponsor, said she's grateful the bill passed, despite "a little sputtering in the Senate" from some opponents. Sen. Dan Salomon, a Ronan Republican, said it's important to protect children regardless of their ages, and he hopes the final product works as planned. 

"It's all about the safety of these young kids," Salomon said.

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Reporter for the Missoulian