As more and more information on the impact of concussions and traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, the topic has become a serious hot-button issue for the vast world of sports.
Everyone from the NFL to the NHL to the NCAA has come under scrutiny for their handling, or rather their lack of handling, of head injuries
The NFL has reached a settlement with over 4,500 former players while the NCAA has recently reached a settlement with former athletes that according to USA Today Sports, would change the association’s guidelines for the management of concussions, and also would provide $75 million for medical monitoring and research.
The issue stems even further into the high school sports community, where the No. 1 priority is the safety of their student athletes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those under age 19 are more likely to experience a TBI or concussion — and take longer to recover — than adults.
The CDC’s studies have discovered that TBI represent almost 9 percent of injuries in high school sports and that those rates are highest in football and girl’s soccer.
Due to the proven severity of issues that concussions and TBI can have on the body, efforts to protect young athletes are being ramped up by schools across the country.
Since I spend the vast majority of my time covering Cleveland and Walker Valley sports, I decided to look into what steps the two schools are taking to help prevent and better treat concussions.
While researching the topic, I discovered that Cleveland recently began participating in the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) program.
As both the athletic director and a parent to student athletes of his own, working to better the safety and treatment of athletes is something that is always on Eric Phillips’ mind.
“With all the craziness going on with concussions and NFL athletes, I’ve been keeping an eye on it for the past few years. The TSSAA has also come out with some literature and through that we’ve all become more educated,” Phillips explained. “I have heard about this Impact Concussion testing for about a year and a half, but couldn’t really figure out what was going on with it, so I began to look into and study it.”
What Phillips learned was that ImPACT gives the athletes a baseline cognitive computer test at the beginning of their seasons. That baseline test can then be used as a measure if a head injury occurs.
“The baseline test gives tangible evidence and if a concussion is suspected, the athlete can go back and re-take the test, then go to the doctor with the results to compare with the baseline. Now the doctor knows that kid and what their brain was like before putting on a helmet,” Phillips stated. “This is a work in progress and the testing process will get smoother each year. Something is better than nothing, and I have full belief that this program is one that will help to protect our kids.”
Cleveland’s athletic trainer Rebecca Parker estimated that she sees an average of three concussions per football season, usually made up of one serious one and two to three mild ones.
The eight year veteran trainer has been tasked with overseeing the baseline testing of the school’s athletes and feels that it will be a valuable tool.
While the ImPACT test cannot prevent concussions from occurring, it can help produce better diagnoses and treatment.
Far too often we hear stories of athletes returning to action before they are ready, but hopefully with the improvements and continued research into head injuries, those stories will become far and few.
“For me, it’s about an opportunity to protect our athletes and make sure they’re not getting back out there too quickly. I don’t ever want a kid going back out on the field before they’ve fully healed and taken the appropriate amount of time off,” Phillips proclaimed. “It’s exciting because we’ve now tested practically every fall athlete. We will send the kid with tangible evidence of what they were like before the injury. There is a whole battery of rehab that can be done for brain injuries, so through this I think our kids will really get the treatment that they might need.”
Walker Valley is not using the ImPACT program yet, but according to athletic trainer Jessica Covert, it will probably be a program that is soon required by the state powers-that-be.
“With football I see more concussions than with any other sport,” Covert stated. “There can be around five to six major concussions in a season, but it varies. If minor concussions are added in, that number can double.”
The Mustangs use the SAC Form when checking players for concussions, which basically tests their balance, memory recall and concentration.
Rehabilitation for head injuries has no set time and depends mainly on the symptoms and number of concussions a player has had.
“The kids are generally honest with you about their symptoms, because they don’t want to be out any longer than they have to,” Covert explained. “If there was any loss of consciousness, you’re out for at least 10 days before even being re-evaluated. If you’ve had three concussions in one season, you are then done for the year.”
One area the Walker Valley trainer pointed out is highly neglected is younger kids, who are not yet competing at the high school level.
“It amazes me how many concussions actually happen at the lower level. Nobody ever looks at or counts those,” Covert said.
When looking at the CDC’s information and studies on TBI and concussions, I also noticed the youngest generation was visibly absent, which is disturbing to no end.
While the injuries may not be as severe as those accrued at the high levels, it is a proven fact that head injuries are more detrimental to youngsters than adults.
I’m not here to lambaste contact sports. I enjoy watching a good, hard-hitting game just as much as the next person.
What I am here to do is to help further spread the knowledge and information that has come to light recently.
There are a number of resources available to student athletes and parents alike through their respective programs.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that everyone wants to put the athletes’ safety first in these matters, because there is nothing scarier than seeing a kid go down on the field.
Here’s to another successful year of area high school football, with the hopes of little to no serious injuries in anyone’s future.