Quinn to require schools insure athletes

Paralyzed athlete Rob Komosa fought for cause

Posted8/4/2013 8:00 AM
  • Rob Komosa died this year, 14 years after the Rolling Meadows High School football accident that left him paralyzed.

      Rob Komosa died this year, 14 years after the Rolling Meadows High School football accident that left him paralyzed. JOHN STARKS/jstarks@ dailyherald.com October 2009

Gov. Pat Quinn will sign legislation today requiring Illinois high schools to carry insurance covering catastrophic sports accidents, making law a cause Rob Komosa fought for from his 1999 paralyzing football injury until his death earlier this year.

Komosa was hurt after being tackled into a post on a Rolling Meadows High School practice field, and the immense financial burden on his family from the cost of his complicated medical care dogged him for the rest of his life.

The school district didn't have insurance, and Komosa eventually won $12.5 million in a legal settlement in 2005.

Under the new law, schools will have to carry catastrophic accident insurance on their student athletes that would cover $3 million of costs for up to five years. The Illinois High School Association will be tasked with arranging for policies the schools can buy.

Don Grossnickle, the Arlington Heights Catholic deacon who befriended Komosa and spurred the suburbs to help with his medical needs, will attend today's bill signing.

"It's bigger than life," said Grossnickle, who founded the Gridiron Alliance charity devoted to helping paralyzed athletes. "I have come to be energized by the battle."

Details about how the law will be implemented are to come.

The Illinois High School Association "is prepared to fulfill its responsibilities," said Executive Director Marty Hickman. "In the event that the bill is signed into law this weekend, we will reach out to our member schools next week with more information."

The law takes effect immediately. It includes all public schools and private schools whose athletes take part in events sanctioned by the IHSA.

The fight for a change in the law was sparked this year after freshman state Sen. Napoleon Harris, a Flossmoor Democrat and former NFL and Northwestern University linebacker, took up the cause.

Harris was inspired by the story of Rocky Clark, a student athlete from Chicago's South Side whose story is similar to Komosa's. Quinn will sign the legislation at Clark's old high schooltoday.

"Rocky Clark was a fighter, and this new law -- Rocky's Law -- is a tribute to him and all the years he fought to protect young athletes across our state," Quinn said in a statement. "Rocky is an inspiration to us all and he wanted to ensure other students are educated about playing it safe on the field."

Grossnickle said Clark didn't get the same community support Komosa did, and the new law could help bring some parity.

"Catastrophe came down on them like a ton of bricks. Nobody came to the aid of Rocky Clark," he said. "The law is now, in a sense, a form of equality."

Questions remain, despite the new law. Advocates would like to see more states take up the cause, and the new rules could still give some paralyzed athletes trouble because the required coverage lasts just five years. Komosa lived for 13 years after his accident, and Clark lived more than 11.

An original version of the legislation would have required up to $7.5 million in coverage over 15 years. But cost concerns for school districts that are already strapped for cash were raised, and the terms were changed for the final version.

Still, Grossnickle says he'll be smiling on Sunday.

"I feel like someone is finally paying attention," he said.

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