Bart Winter will always remember the Friday night football game that changed his family forever. It was Sept. 5, 2008, the opening play on the line of scrimmage between high school rivals Lake Mills and Forest City.
Tyler Olson, Winter’s step-son, rushed to tackle an opponent, and his helmet slammed into a player’s thigh. When the play was over, Olson didn’t get up. The crowd went silent.
Olson broke the vertebrae in his neck, damaging his spinal cord. Today at age 21, Olson is a quadriplegic. Yet doctors think the young man, currently a student at North Iowa Area Community College, will walk again given the progress he has made over the last four years.
In those first frantic days after the accident, Winter got a call from Jim Boehmer, then coach and now athletic director at Lake Mills High School.
Beamer explained that Olson was covered under the free catastrophic injury insurance provided by the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and its title sponsor, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
The catastrophic injury insurance covers any injury sustained by an athlete that results in medical expenses of $25,000 or more while the student is practicing for or participating in an IHSAA event, during travel to and from the location of the event, or during a temporary stay at the location of a covered event held away from the student’s school.
The catastrophic injury insurance also provides a $500,000 cash benefit ($100,000 the first year and $40,000 each additional year for 10 years) to help pay for medical necessities.
Winter says that without the insurance, the medical expenses could have sunk his family’s funeral home business in Lake Mills.
“It’s an understatement to say that it has been a gift from God,” Winter says. “His power chair alone is $43,000 new. And a manual chair that he has is $15,000 new. So it’s real easy to go through all sorts of money very quickly.”
Since 1981, the IHSAA has provided free catastrophic injury insurance to Iowa student athletes in grades 9-12, notes Rick Wulkow, IHSAA’s executive director.
Yet over time, the cost to provide the insurance has greatly increased, stretching the IHSAA’s budget, Wulkow says. Through the Iowa Farm Bureau’s title sponsorship of the IHSAA, students can continue to receive the insurance coverage at no cost.
“Farm Bureau, of course, was very interested in providing this for the protection of the young people that participate,” Wulkow says.
The IHSAA and title sponsor, Farm Bureau, also provide free secondary medical coverage to players and cheerleaders participating in post-regular season tournaments.
The secondary medical insurance covers expenses up to $25,000 beyond what is covered by the parents’ primary insurance or if the family doesn’t have health insurance coverage.
All students who participate in IHSAA events are automatically enrolled in the free catastrophic injury insurance plan; no sign-up is required.