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School Sports Focus more on Concussion

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   August 25, 2011 21:11

As high school football teams begin practice this week and games in less than a month, they will be doing so with new legislation in place that reinforces concussion awareness and prevention.

The Missouri and Illinois governors each signed bills in July that address the issue, and education of concussion-related topics continues to dominate conversations at local, statewide and national levels of the sport.

"Concussions are the hot topic in football right now," Travis Brown, the athletics director for the St. Louis Public High League, said Friday during a coaches' safety seminar for the PHL.

The similar legislation in both states mandates that a student must receive medical approval before resuming play. The Missouri bill signed by Gov. Jay Nixon on July 13 requires players appearing to have a concussion or brain injury to sit out for 24 hours, which mirrors the return-to-play policies of both the Missouri and Illinois high school athletic associations. Both mandate education for coaches and athletes about concussion symptoms. The Illinois law was signed July 28.

The two state athletic associations are spearheading much of the education process. Craig Anderson, assistant executive director for the IHSA, said head coaches and officials will receive concussion awareness training in meetings. He said awareness, as much as anything, is key.

"I think coaches are becoming more aware. The awareness is there now. I think in our state — and hopefully across the nation — kids are getting proper instruction," Anderson said. "My hope is that we will steadily see a decrease in concussions."

Anderson noted that an uptick in the number of concussions is possible in the near future, and that may be a good thing. A researcher from Purdue University estimates that 67,000 concussions occur in high school football nationwide, and the same amount go unreported. With a broader awareness, Anderson said, the number of concussions reported may initially go up.

The speaker at the PHL's concussion training, Dr. Tom Martin, a neuropsychologist from the University of Missouri, reminded the coaches that younger athletes are particularly at risk of brain injuries. He said it is difficult to compare the concussion treatment of a high school athlete to one seen at the professional level because the adult football player has a different, often quicker, healing process.

Martin emphasized that younger athletes are more vulnerable to concussions, have more severe symptoms and may take longer to recover than an adult athlete.

When it comes to preventing the injury, he said there are several ways.

"I think prevention can take on many faces," Martin said. "One is looking at ways to change rules to minimize possibility for a brain injury, and the second one is education is key so people understand the signs and symptoms."

And education is exactly what Brown hoped Friday's event would accomplish.

"My goal is to educate all the parents and the student athletes and the coaches and make the community at-large aware of concussions," Brown said. "My goal is to spread this to everyone involved. Parents need to know the signs of concussions. They need to know the symptoms of concussions. The kids may not play in a school organized league, but they may play in a recreational league in their community. They need to educate their student athlete."