NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — State lawmakers are considering legislation to increase protection for youth hockey players after a 10-grader died last month.
Teddy Balkind, a 16-year-old hockey player at St. Luke’s School in New Cannan, lost his life after an on-ice accident in Greenwich.
The General Assembly’s Committee on Children held a public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would prevent, as of Oct. 1, an “operator of a youth ice hockey activity or an intramural or interscholastic ice hockey event” from allowing a child to participate, unless the child is wearing a protective neck guard.
“I’m not saying it [a neck guard] would have saved his life, but it could have been an avoidable accident,” Sam Brande, Balkind’s friend, said.
Neck guards can cost anywhere between $10 and $60, depending on the brand and if it’s for a goalie.
Legislation calling for mandatory neck guards has received a mixed response.
The bill is opposed by the Sports Medicine Committee of the Connecticut State Medical Society, which says there isn’t sufficient medical evidence to support the proposal. In written testimony, the committee noted how USA Hockey, the governing body of organized hockey in the U.S., recommends but does not mandate neck guards. Also, the committee said research shows the majority of hockey-related neck lacerations are superficial, and available neck protectors don’t eliminate the risk of laceration from a skate blade.
The group called for further research into the effectiveness of neck guards and recommended a task force, including members of the medical society, be created to further examine the issue. The Connecticut Athletic Trainers Association is also in opposition.
The bill does, however, have strong support in the hockey community.
The Connecticut Association of Independent Schools supports the bill. Rick Branson, executive director of the organization, said in a written testimony submitted to the General Assembly’s Committee on Children that many of the 89 CAIS schools and their athletic associations are now recommending or requiring neck guards.
After Balkind’s death, Brande created an online petition to make neck guards mandatory. As of Tuesday night, it has more than 108,000 signatures. Numerous parents and coaches have left comments, calling for better protection in hockey youth.
“It’s such a tragedy, but you move forward by wearing that equipment and recommending people wear it,” Gary Gordon, president of the Eastern Connecticut Hockey Organization and the father of three hockey players, said.
As the online petition inches closer to its 150,000 signature goal, the bill requiring neck guards is in General Assembly’s Committee on Children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.