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Preparticipation Physical Exam Forms – Is Your School Administration Auditing The Athletic Department?

It's really a simple process

The pre-participation physical exam form (also known as the pre-participation evaluation form (PPE)) is simple in concept.  A student doesn't practice or play sports until cleared by medical personnel to play. Most sports organizations tell you what type of medical professionals are authorized to complete the forms, and they tell you how long the form is good for (usually a year, but there are some places that provide for a longer period). 

Tracking one preparticipation physical exam form is so simple that anybody could do it. In fact, given a year to track one form I think it's safe to say that people of less than stellar intellectual and organizational ability could track one preparticipation physical exam form, check to see if the right kind of medical professional cleared an athlete to play, monitor the date that the form becomes invalid, and give the athlete advance notice of the expiration date so the athlete can take their physical exam for the next year.

Well - Maybe It's Not So Simple

Einstein need not apply - anyone can track preparticipation physicals - right? Well, not so fast. It's not so easy. As with all things, reality intrudes.

Athletic directors do so many things that they become overwhelmed. That's when mistakes can happen.

The simple fact of the matter is that athletic directors are not charged with the easy task of tracking one athlete's physical. They're charged with tracking hundreds of athletes' physicals. Simultaneously, the athletic director has to book transportation, book games, book officials, maintain fields, maintain gyms, balance gym schedules, raise money, cut payroll, monitor academic compliance, arrange staff supervision of contests, hire coaches, evaluate coaches, deal with the parents ... aah you get the point. The athletic director does a lot.

Some athletic directors will be inclined to fob certain things off to the coach, and the coach is probably doing a ton of work, too. It's very easy for your athletic department to start pushing paper, but not really checking it.

I think it's safe to say that most schools check paperwork well enough to make sure that the students take a preparticipation physical exam. However, many schools can't really scrutinize the forms - and that's where problems occur.

What Will An Audit of Your School's Paperwork Find?

The only way you can really tell if your school is doing the job is to have someone outside the athletic department audit the paperwork. Just ask for the preparticipation physical exams for the last few years.

You'll have a hint of a problem if they tell you they can't locate forms from last year. Remember, the forms from last year need to be on hand as the statute of limitations hasn't expired. Quite frankly, the forms should be stored until the child becomes a legal adult (but that is the subject of another article that I wrote on how to store the forms).

You'll get stronger signals of problems if the school can't immediately produce the current year's forms. If the athletic director has to hunt around for the forms or call the coach, you've got at best a storage problem and at worse a monitoring problem in your athletic department - and you haven't even audited the forms themselves yet!

Of course, you'll never know what you have until the non-athletic department auditor examines the forms. Are the signatures all there? Is everybody cleared by a physician? Are there any unusual markings on the forms?

You may find it strange, but sometimes the physician forgets to actually check the "clear" box on the version of the most commonly used preparticipation evaluation form - the one produced by the group of five medical organizations known as the "Five Society Monograph"  - which is used in various versions around the country.   Even stranger, physicians sometimes make weird errors. I've seen physicians check both the "cleared" and "not cleared" box on the same form, and I've seen football players have a physician clear them with restrictions on "any sport involving heavy physical contact." Go figure.

Check the forms against the rosters and team eligibility lists. You might find a player on the roster or list who didn't have a physical at all. Why? The auditor will need to know, and the athletic department needs to notate this type of practice.

Violations abound

It's not surprising that state high school associations find violations regarding preparticipation physical forms when they investigate. The scary thing is that we often see the state association drawn to a particular school by something else: a recruiting violation or some other rules violation. The preparticipation forms get drawn into an overall investigation, but they aren't generally the initial focus of the investigation.

It's troubling when the Florida High School Activities Association runs a four-year investigation of recruiting violations at a high school, and also finds that a student participated with a phony physical.  PPEs weren't the focus of the FHSAA's investigation. Yet, the high school breached something that impacts the health and safety of someone's child.

In May, the California Interscholastic Federation's Central Coast Section investigated eligibility violations and practice violations at the Bridgemont School in San Francisco. They reviewed the school's paperwork and found "inadequately prepared health forms." Not one form, mind you, but multiple forms. 

It's Time To Support Your Athletic Department

The entire sports community needs to jump in and make it possible for athletic directors to do their job right. Schools aren't dropping the ball because their athletic directors lack ability; they're dropping the ball because athletic directors aren't getting the support they need.

The summer 2008 issue of  Interscholastic Athletic Administration magazine asked five high school athletic directors to list their greatest challenge. Two said time. Two said parents. The fifth one said a lack of administrative support.

The April 2008 issue of the National Federation of State High School Association's High School Today had an article entitled, "The Alarming Turnover Rate of Athletic Directors" by Dr. David Hoch, CMAA.  The simple fact of the matter is that people really don't know what goes into running an athletic program.  This absence of knowledge makes it hard for athletic directors to get the tools they need to do the job right.  Schools don't make up for the lack of tools with a big paycheck so the inevitable occurs.  Your athletic director quits because she can't do the job right.  Some health issues and preparticipation physical exam forms fall through the cracks while the overburdened athletic director is there. We can't solve the greater societal problem here, but we can recognize that the school's administration can randomly audit some of the forms in order to help ensure that the physicals are done right.

Updated December 5, 2011       (c) 2010-2020