MHSAA Leaves High School Athletes' Health to the Discretion of Individual Doctors

If you’re a parent of a high school student, you know that your child must pass a physical examination prior to playing sports as is required by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. However, your child doesn’t necessarily need to pass every physical test that could reveal a serious health problem in order to be eligible to play high school sports—that is, one physical’s quality can be very different from another physical’s quality depending on the doctor, hospital, and a range of other factors.

While the MHSAA strictly regulates high school athletics, it doesn’t do the same for physical exams. Instead, physicals don’t necessarily need to include a questionnaire, a stethoscope, or even the “cough” test, all of which can reveal potentially serious health problems that could be exacerbated by playing sports. All the MHSAA cares about is a doctor’s signature on the required forms. That isn’t to say the MHSAA doesn’t have standards—they do have a form with a questionnaire and various medical tests that they believe constitutes a comprehensive physical examination. The main problem is that there is no enforcement that a student pass all the MHSAA “required” tests.

Thankfully, the MHSAA is considering updating and bolstering enforcement of the current standards after a local consortium of the American Heart Association asked the organization to consider doing so. Nevertheless, the MHSAA still believes that most member school districts use the form and offer good physical through the schools. But, again, the MHSAA does not mandate use of the form and most students don’t acquire their physicals through the school services and instead opt for a private physical at their local doctor’s office.

Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a big deal for your child’s health to be held to rigorous standards. However, take Jameson Hartley who just completed his high school baseball career despite a serious heart condition called Marfan syndrome. While nothing serious happened to Hartley, he can attest to the lack of quality physical examinations at some doctors’ offices. In fact, he received an extremely superficial exam at a walk-in clinic in Lansing where the doctor merely took his pulse, asked him to breathe, and signed his form for school. Hartley admits that if he had gone elsewhere, he probably wouldn’t have passed an examination with more rigorous standards. Hartley also admits that he was lucky that nothing happened to him because of his heart condition and agrees that more in-depth physicals should be required for all high school athletes.