Posted: December 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm
By William Rochinich, Bree Marquand, Kamala Gopalakrishnan
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — High school and middle school athletes who may have suffered concussions must pass a test before retaking the field, state officials say.
The efforts to encourage testing began in 2008 and are part of an array of new anti-concussion measures put in place by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC).
Mr. Ray Londeree, Assistant Executive Director, says that trainers, coaches, officials, and teachers have information available to them to identify post-concussion symptoms. There are posters in schools and online resources available to encourage awareness.
According to Committee member Dr. Richard Vaglienti, M.D., emphasis is being placed on the tests that West Virginia middle school and high school football players must pass after a head injury. They are the same testing procedures that are used at the collegiate level and compare well to tests used to evaluate professional football players.
A 2011 report written at the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill by Dr. Frederick Meuller Ph.D., football players competing at the high school and youth levels suffered 14 brain injuries that would cause long-lasting damage.
The efforts by the WVSSAC to protect the health of student athletes include using the ImPact Test for athletes who have suffered head injuries, and requiring coaches to complete a course on concussions from the National Federation of State High School Associations website.
This online course is designed to help coaches “understand the impact sports-related concussion can have on players, how to recognize a suspected concussion, the proper protocols to manage a suspected concussion, and steps to help the player return to play safely after experiencing a concussion.”
Coaches and trainers are using the ImPact (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test, a 20 minute computerized test that tests an athlete’s cognitive functions after suffering a head injury.
As a committee member, Vaglienti’s responsibilities include advising the commissioners and discussing the public policy regarding sports medical issues.
“We try to stay ahead of the curve and do what is best for the our athletes,” said Vaglienti. “We have received nothing but positive feedback about what we have done.”
Also on the radar of the WVSSAC is second impact syndrome, which occurs when an athlete suffers more than one head injury in a short period of time. According to Vaglienti, fifty percent of athletes that suffer a second impact will die. Although this is a rare occurrence, the WVSSAC is working to prevent the incident altogether.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website has a section on concussion in sports and offers free resources to aid coaches and parents in educating each other on causes, symptoms, and treatment of head injuries.
Dr Vaglienti said that communication between medical staff, coaches, and parents is positive.
“The serious nature of [head] injury has got everyone to focus,” added Vaglienti, “I think the message is spreading well [throughout the state]”.
Coaches are teaching a “heads-up” approach to awareness and tackling technique. They embrace the increased efforts to protect student-athlete health. Often times coaches felt pressure from parents to declare an athlete ready to play, and welcome the additional testing.
“We have always taught proper tackling form,” said Head Football Coach John Bowers at Morgantown High School.
For football players, there is an instructional video that each athlete must watch to help reinforce tackling technique. The video also helps educate players about head injuries.
“Kids are cognizant of proper tackling techniques,” said Vaglienti.
In his 2011 report, Frederick O. Mueller, Ph.D. concludes that “football catastrophic injuries may never be totally eliminated, but continued research has resulted in rule changes, equipment standards, improved medical care both on and off the playing field, and changes in teaching the fundamental techniques of the game.”