07/22/04 — Sports physicals are a back-to-school must

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Sports physicals are a back-to-school must

By David Williams
Published in Sports on July 22, 2004 1:56 PM

The usual routine for children going back to school is something every parent knows all too well -- buy clothes, get new shoes, buy pens, paper, notebooks, school supplies.

For the parents of middle school and high school athletes, one other stop is important -- the doctor's office.

With the start of classes just weeks away, the fall sports season is due to begin July 28 -- the first day allowed by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to begin practices. And every student wishing to take part in a sport in high school or middle school is required to have a physical before the first day of practice.

So like the long lines at the department stores, the shoe stores and the office supply stores, the area doctor's offices are getting busier as more and more prospective athletes are checked out and made to say aah.

More than 3,800 students were on middle school or high school sports teams last season, and more are expected this season. Those athletes usually wait to get a the exam until days before practice begins, and that means offices can do as many as 30-40 sprots exams a day in the final week before practice begins.

The physicals are meant to provide proof that a prospective athlete has the physical requirements to take part in a sport and can absorb the physical aspects of sports. They are not all-inclusive workups that can detect a more serious condition.

"There are so many factors that come into play," said Jocelyn Harris, the office manager at Immediate Care of Goldsboro. "This physical will not alert you to the person that falls out and dies of an anyeursm."

The importance of examinations before the physical activity of sports cannot be overstated. In most cases, athletes who have died on the field or on the court from causes that would not be detected on a normal examination. The doctors look for red flags on the exam that might signal a condition that needs to be evaluated.

"We want to make sure the kids are physically fit to perform the sports activities," said Betty Keen, the office manager for MedStat of Goldsboro.

Most doctors treat sports physicals as a public service, offering the exams at a greatly reduced price to help families with tight budgets or several athletes. Harris said some clinics in bigger cities charge as much as $60 for a sports physical, while prices in Wayne County range from $25 to $30.

"We try to do them at a lower fee than an average office visit," said Keen, who said in the past coaches from Wilson County have driven busloads of athletes down to Wayne County for lower-cost physicals before a season has begun.

It's a basic examination -- listen to the heart and lungs, take blood pressure, height and weight, as well as a vision check and a urine test, which checks blood, glucose and protein levels. The examinations do not require a drug screening. Pelvic exams are not performed, but male genitalia are checked.

While it is a rudimentary look-over, subjects can fail the exams if heart murmurs, hernias and the like turn up.

"A lot of the kids we check play in the heat and get dehydrated," said Harris. "Some have not been to a doctor in years, or since they entered kindergarten."

Harris also said the sports exam has turned up a student's previously unknown need for glasses.