Coaches, Athletes Boost Concussion Knowledge
MIAA coaches must now take a concussion course and Braintree has a new program to educate student athletes and their families about head injuries.
Hard hits and their repercussions at the level of the National Football League have trickled down to high school athletes and coaches this year, spurring mandatory education and a program in Braintree that will employ post-concussion cognitive testing.
At the urging of athletic director Michael Denise and trainer Kara Letendre, the Braintree School Committee voted to enact the ImPACT program at their Nov. 29 meeting. Letendre said she dealt with 41 concussions just this fall, mostly from football, but also affecting girls soccer and field hockey athletes.
"The reporting has gotten more and more," she said. "It's rather high. It's not just 'you got your bell rung' -- parents are recognizing that."
The program consists of several tests involving memory, reaction time and processing speed that gauge the severity of injury and help set a recovery standard. It will begin during the upcoming winter season, with testing for basketball, girls and boys hockey, gymnastics, wrestling and other sports rotating from Dec. 6 through Dec. 14.
"We have to identify the concussion," Denise said. "A lot of times kids are hiding."
Mayor Joseph Sullivan questioned Denise before the vote about equipment and hits during practice, wondering if Braintree is doing enough to protect its student athletes from head injuries in the first place.
There is a separate line item in the sports budget for reconditioning equipment, Denise said, and two years ago football coaches were given a tutorial in checking helmets by a Riddell representative. Football shoulder and body pad coverage depends on whether the action is pre-game, practice or during a game, but helmets must be worn at all times.
"The head should always be protected," Denise said.
The athletic director added that families of student athletes may soon face mandatory courses on concussions, potentially adding to an effort already in place to educate Massachusetts coaches.
After the enactment of a recent Department of Public Health law, Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association coaches will now be required to take part in a concussion education course offered by the National Federation of High School Association.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Wellness Program is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary of promoting the health and safety of student-athletes. The program consists of extensive programming and policies focused on helping student-athletes make healthy life choices.
To further the efforts of the wellness program, the MIAA Board of Directors voted unanimously in November to make it mandatory for all member-school coaches to take an online concussion course starting with the 2010-11 winter season, which begins on Nov. 29.
"We now are waiting for the Department of Public Health to develop resultant regulations," said Bill Haley, athletic director at Concord-Carlisle High School and MIAA President. "Meanwhile, we have advised our members to follow the wellness protocols already in place for many years and any other aspects of the new law they can meet until new regulations are established by the DPH."
As part of the current wellness program, MIAA member-school coaches are required to participate in an education course within one year of being hired. The course includes first aid instruction, recognizing signs of head injury, and drug or steroid use among other wellness issues.
In addition, member-schools continue to require physical examinations for student-athletes and submission of a health history from a parent or guardian. The MIAA has long had a rule requiring medical clearance before an athlete who has suffered a head injury can return to play.
"Many of our schools go beyond the association's requirements and programs," Haley said, "working with physicians, trainers, school nurses, parents and outside consultants to expand awareness of safety issues in different sports."
The online course, which is available on the National Federation of State High School Associations website, has already been voluntarily taken by more than 4,700 Massachusetts residents this fall.
Despite wide-spread news involving helmet hits and penalties in the NFL, it's not just football players who are at risk.
"A concussion is a concussion is a concussion," Letendre said, adding that girls soccer, with its head-to-head and head-to-ball clashes and the hard, cold ground during the later parts of the season contribute to serious injuries.
As part of the school department's new program, coaches, athletes and their families will work with Dr. Janet Kent. She runs South Shore Hospital's Sports Concussion Clinic, is a certified ImPACT consultant and expert in brain injuries.
High School Headmaster David Swanton, a former college and high school coach with a son who has played football, said he understands the importance of the new publicity and efforts surrounding concussions.
"As an education institution," he said, "this is the message we should be supporting."