BCS targets concussions

Published 1:22 am Tuesday, August 16, 2011

High school football players will be among the first group of athletes tested for concussions by the Beaufort County Board of Ecucation. The tests are part of a series of steps proposed by public school leaders to educate students, parents and coaches about concussions. (File Photo/Brian Haines)

Athletes participating in many sports at the county’s public schools will be required to take screening tests designed to help diagnose concussions before they can begin play under a plan to be presented to the Beaufort County Board of Education today.

Under the plan, previewed last week by a board committee that oversees the school system’s buildings, grounds and finances, Beaufort County School will require baseline testing for all middle-school and high-school athletes who participate in nine sports identified as “collision” and “contact” sports — baseball, basketball, cheerleading, football, high jump, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling.

The tests are part of a series of steps that will be taken by public school leaders to educate students, parents and coaches about concussions and help prevent serious injuries that result from them.

“We could end up saving a life by doing this,” said board Chairman Robert Belcher after hearing about the plan.

According to recent research, high-school athletes suffered 400,000 concussions in the 2005-2008 school years, and studies show many sports-related concussions go unreported.

Research also shows that young athletes are at greater risk of sports-related concussions than college or professional athletes because their developing brains are more susceptible to injury. And, researchers said, young female athletes are more susceptible to concussions.

Serious brain injuries or death can occur when an athlete with an undiagnosed concussion returns to play and suffers another injury before the brain has had a chance to heal, a condition known as “second-impact syndrome.”

Student-athletes participating in designated sports will be required to take a computerized test offered by Concussion Vital Signs of Morrisville before they are allowed to play, according to the plan before the board.

If an athlete is believed to have suffered a head injury during competition, that athlete will be required to take another test that may be used by doctors to help determine the severity of the injury and when the injury has fully healed, according to Patrick Abele, executive director for learning services for Beaufort County Schools.

The test does not replace a medical diagnosis, but it is intended to help medical professionals with that diagnosis, according to information presented to the committee.

The test, similar to a video game, tests an athlete’s ability to remember words, shapes, colors and symbols. Its results are used as a baseline against which a test taken after a suspected concussion is measured.

Cost of the program is expected to be $375 per school for an unlimited number of baseline tests and an unlimited number of post-concussion tests, Abele told the committee.

The tests are just one measure public-school leaders are taking to prevent concussions.

The N.C. General Assembly, earlier this year, enacted legislation that requires public high schools and middle schools to provide education on concussion awareness to student-athletes, parents, coaches, volunteers and first-responders.

The law also requires players who exhibit signs of a concussion to be removed from play or practice and not return until being cleared by a medical professional, and it requires schools to develop an emergency plan to deal with serious injuries.

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Cook of Beaufort County, among others, the law, known as the Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act, is named after two high-school athletes who died as a result of concussions.
Matthew Gfeller was a sophomore at Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem and Jaquan Waller was a junior at Rose High School in Greenville when they died as a result of concussions received while playing high-school football.

Packets of information, including information describing the signs and symptoms of concussions, are to be distributed to student athletes and their parents, Abele said.

Baseline tests for fall sports are scheduled to be conducted this week, he said.

Concussion Facts

What is a concussion? A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a direct or indirect impact to the head that results in disruption of normal brain function, which may or may not result in loss of consciousness. It can occur from a fall, a blow to the head, or a blow to the body that causes the head and the brain to move quickly back and forth.

How do I recognize a concussion? There are many signs and symptoms a person may experience following a concussion that can affect their thinking, emotions or mood, physical abilities, or sleep. These include difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering new information; physical symptoms such as headache, fuzzy or blurred vision, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, balance problems and sensitivity to noise or light; emotional and mood symptoms such as irritability and sadness, and sleep-related symptoms such as sleeping more or less than usual.

What are some of the long-term issues that may result from a concussion? Individuals may have trouble in classes at school or even with activities at home. If the injury is not managed properly or if they return to play too early, they may experience issues such as depression, not feeling well, or having trouble remembering things for a long time. Once an individual has a concussion, he or she is more likely to suffer another concussion.

Source: Beaufort County Schools Concussion Information for Coaches/Parents/School Nurses/School Volunteers