In order to combat concussions, McPherson School District is taking steps to inform students and parents of the symptoms and risks of head injuries in young athletes.

In order to combat concussions, McPherson School District is taking steps to inform students and parents of the symptoms and risks of head injuries in young athletes.
According to Cleared to Play.Org, a website dedicated to head injury awareness advocacy, 400,000 brain injuries (concussions) occurred in high school athletics during the 2008-09 school year. Injuries associated with participation in sports and recreational activities account for 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States.
Kansas State law requires student athletes and parents to sign a paper acknowledging they have received and understood information regarding the risks and symptoms of concussions, and schools are required to provide such information.
Symptoms include headaches, nausea or vomiting, neck pain, balance and vision problems, feeling sluggish or foggy, amnesia, nervousness or anxiety, and concentration or memory problems.
Observers may also notice a vacant facial expression, confusion about assignment, clumsy or uncoordinated movements, or slurred speech.
To help diagnose a concussion, McPherson schools use a program called ImPACT testing to measure changes in athletes’ cognitive abilities.
“They test the basic function of the brain — memory, speed, reaction time,” said Shane Backhus, activities director.
The test is required for all students participating in high impact sports, such as soccer, football, volleyball, wrestling, basketball, baseball and softball.
ImPACT testing consists of two parts, a baseline test and a post-injury test. Students are first given the baseline test in seventh grade and then every two years until graduation. This measures the students’ normal ability to complete mental tasks.
“That gives us an idea of what a healthy child’s brain does,” Backhus said.
If a child is suspected to have a concussion or concussion symptoms are observed, the student is put through the same tasks again in the post-injury tests, and those results are compared with the baseline test results.
“It can’t diagnose a concussion, but it gives doctors data they can use,” Backhus said.
Backhus said it is important for concussions to be diagnosed, as they can have serious side effects. In addition, students with a concussion are more likely to injure themselves further and experience more serious consequences.
“There’s a lot of data out there about concussions, and there’s a big push to educate parents and students and keep kids safe,” Backhus said.