2023 Sports, Health and Wellness, Small/Medium Newsroom winner

Safer Sidelines

About the Project

For several months, Courier Journal reporter Stephanie Kuzydym dedicated herself to a project on sudden death in sports, particularly at the high school level.

We debuted her investigative series – Safer Sidelines – in April 2023.

Her findings were both eye-catching and troubling:

* Each year, sudden death in high-school sports happens multiple times across the U.S.
* Few states are requiring all the necessary steps to protect high school athletes from heat stroke or to save their lives in the case of sudden cardiac arrest.
* Some states do have laws or policies, but they have little enforcement and are often ignored.
* New legislation to require sports safety measures is often defeated or watered down.
* Cost is often the reason cited for not adding life-saving equipment to sports sidelines, but it is a tiny fraction of what school systems spend on sports every year.

There was no public database of sudden death in sports — until this series debuted. As part of this project, with the assistance of a USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2022 Data Fellowship and athletic trainers across the nation, Stephanie compiled more than a century of data and shared it with our readers.

Another first-of-its-kind look involved sports venue-specific emergency action plans, which are a requirement in Kentucky and some other states. Stephanie gathered plans from public high schools across the state and worked with a university professor who specializes in sports safety to grade the plans.

She found many schools weren’t fully complying with the law. The data, along with another database showing what schools do and do not staff athletic trainers, is now out there for Kentucky parents and athletes to peruse.

In its first month online, the project has been shared widely across Kentucky and the nation, and has advocates and parents already looking ahead to the next legislative sessions in their state, where they will carry on their fight for sideline safety.

Judges Comments

This is a deep, investigative look at an undercovered topic facing children across the country. This reporter went above and beyond to collect and analyze data, and provide families with the information needed to better inform themselves. Very impressive use of visuals which made this important information easy to consume and stay engaged with.