posted on June 09, 2011 17:37
A punishing hit, a collective gasp from the crowd, a player lying motionless on the turf: we all know when we've seen a concussion.
What we don't know, says LeRoy football coach Brian Moran, is when the athlete's brain is healthy enough to return to activity in those critical next days and weeks.
"We really want to make sure that when we allow them back, they're safe to participate," says Moran Thursday afternoon in his district office. "Anytime you're diagnosed and have concussion symptoms...a concussion is a concussion. (Doctors) can't evaluate between a major concussion or a minor concussion. You've got to treat them all the same."
A new bill about to be passed by the state legislative body is aiming to do just that. It's a response to growing concern among parents, educators and physicians about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury on high school youth.
"Between the years 2006 and 2008, more than than 23,000 school-aged youths were hospitalized for concussions annually," the bill before the Senate reads. "The three-year total costs for hospitalization and emergency department visits...was over a billion dollars."
The law will allow the Departments of Health and Education to write a majority of the rules, which will be governed out and enforced in New York's 700-plus school districts. But the law does take two important measures under its jurisdiction. First, students suffering concussions will need to be symptom-free for 24 hours before they are allowed to return to activity. Second, each player must have a signed note from a physician approving that return.
Moran, who is also LeRoy's athletic director, supports those measures. But he says his district is already working under similar self-imposed guidelines.
"We've implemented a seven-step process to re-enter individuals back into activity following a concussion," he says. The process includes a physical fitness exam, weightroom activity and light conditioning. "A trainer is right with them to check for any signs of headaches."
The other part of the process is the ImPACT test. It's a computer program that evaluates an individual's reaction times and general brain function. All athletes and gym class participants are required to complete the ImPACT test at the beginning of the season or school-year, while they're completely healthy. If they suffer a concussion, they must re-take it. The student is not allowed to return to activity until he or she matches the original pre-season score.
"It's very hard to fake," says Moran.
Although he praises equipment manufacturers for continually improving their products, such as increasingly-safer football helmets, Moran says there are still several ways to become concussed that are not always protected against.
"One of things we need to take a look at is mouthpieces," he says. "When you look at the studies, one of the most dangerous things to individuals is the secondary contact of the teeth slamming together, after their head makes contact." Moran says he's made it a personal enforcement at LeRoy that all students wear a mouthguard during any athletic activity.
And there are also freak accidents. "Last year we had kid who got a concussion while sledding," he says.
No matter who it is, Moran says the first priority is student safety and long-term health. It doesn't matter whether the student is a star athlete, or a run-of-the-mill gym class kid. "This is not something you want to fool with," he says. "The most dangerous concussion is the second one. We really want to reduce the chance of permanent injury."
Pembroke athletic director Ron Funke confirmed to WBTA this afternoon that Pembroke also makes use of ImPACT testing. He says currently, Pembroke does not require a signed doctor's note for a player to return to activity.
Funke said he believes Elba and Oakfield-Alabama also make use of ImPACT software. Batavia Schools also use ImPACT.