With the rising awareness concerning concussions and how they affect athletes on all levels of play, the Kansas Legislature and school districts have found it necessary to have plans in place to deal with head injuries.
For many, that means following the guidelines set forth by the Legislature in 2011 in the School Sports Head Injury Prevention Act, as well as recommendations from the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
“If our coaches believe a student has a head injury,” Darren Able, Smoky Valley High School athletics director, said, “by state law, they are pulled out of the game or practice and may not return until they have been cleared by a medical doctor. Any post-injury testing is done by a medical professional.”
Parents and students also are required by state law to sign release forms that explains the symptoms of concussions and what to do if you suspect your athlete has suffered from a head injury. This release must be signed and turned in before a students can participate in any sport.
Nationwide, concussion numbers in high school football have been steadily increasing during the past several years. In 2011-2012, 140,057 football players nationwide were reported to have suffered concussions, according to the High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study.
Locally, both McPherson and Smoky Valley report about 20 student-athletes have been tested for possible concussions in the last year, with Smoky Valley’s number also including Smoky Valley Middle School. Even smaller schools, such as Elyria Christian School, have had to deal with possible concussions, with ECS Athletic Director Bobby Childs reporting they have had between one and five students tested, though they have yet to have a confirmed concussion.
“I think KSHSAA and other organizations are making great improvements to understanding and testing for concussions,” Childs said. “The only downfall I currently see is schools needing to have more medical resources to be able to do accurate testing. These resources can cost money, which some schools are strapped for.”
USD 418 takes the state and KSHSAA guidelines another step, as they also utilize the ImPACT program. The Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing program provides trained clinicians with tools and services that help determine whether an athlete is suffering from a concussion.
The testing process begins with a baseline test for participants and, if a concussion is suspected, a post-injury test is administered and provided to the athlete’s doctor.
“We administer baseline tests to seventh-, ninth- and 11th-grade participants,” Shane Backhus, McPherson High School activities director, said. “Baseline data is good for two years. We do this for high-impact sports.”
Backhus has been trained by ImPACT and is the one to administer the baseline and post-injury tests, though the MHS athletic trainer also is trained.
Page 2 of 2 - “With the new research that has come out over the last several years on the impact of head injuries,” Backhus said, “it is important that we stay well informed at all levels and adjust what we do to make sure our participants are safe. I feel like we have done that in the state of Kansas and at MHS with our policies and our staff teaching kids proper technique to be safe while playing.”
Even with the heightened awareness of head injuries caused to athletes in recent years, injuries will happen, especially in high-impact sports like football.
“There is just no way, sometimes, to prevent a kid from falling and hitting their head on the floor,” Able said. “Or kids running into each other and hitting heads. I think rules in football have been modified and enforcement increased to prevent hits/collisions that could result in head injury, but you just can’t take collisions out of football, or other sports for that matter.”