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September 21, 2013

Potential for traumatic brain injury remains hot topic in sports world

CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Public School system continues to make moves to combat concussions in football and other sports through increased education and the implementation of state guidelines for assessing and managing the traumatic brain injury.

“There is a lot of attention on this right now,” said Ray Kiddy, the coordinator for physical education and athletics for the board of education.

From Pop Warner and pee wee league football through professional, brain concussions, typically through impact hits, are being examined to find ways to prevent and manage the injuries.

“We need to always error on the side of the kid,” said Kiddy.

Kiddy appeared before a regular meeting of the Allegany County board Sept. 10 to give an update on the latest measures being taken to manage concussions.

Schools have moved to increase training for coaches and staff to understand concussions and to see that any players suspected of sustaining a concussion are removed from the game or practice field to be examined and cleared by a doctor before returning.

“It’s a hot button issue. We don’t take any chances,” said Gary Davis, athletic director at Mountain Ridge High School.

Davis reported having two athletes out of action now for concussions.

In August and September 2012, the school system had 150 athletic coaches and 33 health professionals and physical education teachers certified in concussion awareness and management through a National Federation of High Schools online certification course.

The course covered the recognition of a concussion, how to grade a concussion, when to refer to a medical professional, return to play decisions and how to evaluate baseline versus post injury data.

According to Kiddy, this summer, 207 public school football players were tested using two newly acquired assessment tools known as ImPACT and BESS.

ImPACT is a computerized neuropsychological test and Balance Error Scoring System is a postural stability test that indicates balance impairment.

Of these 207 athletes tested, 19 scored low in neuropsychological tests and were referred to school system athletic directors for further evaluation.

The tests offer a new opportunity for scholastic athletics in that they provide a baseline score and evaluation for an athlete that can be used to compare data to if an athlete receives a concussion and is again tested.

The school system’s goal for 2014-2015 is to test all incoming freshmen.

However, the school system is experiencing a lack of physicians or licensed athletic trainers on the sidelines to make the assessment for an injury such as a concussion.

Football is also not the only sport prone to concussion. Soccer, with its collisions and the heading of the the ball, also results in  concussions.

According to the Harvard Medical School, concussions have been linked to higher risk of clinical depression, memory loss and other decreased neurological functions.

“I think we are just starting to scratch the surface with this,” said Tony Zologa, a former athletic trainer at Frostburg State University who now teaches a program for inspiring athletic trainers at FSU.

“There is no helmet that will stop a concussion,” said Zologa.

Zologa said that health professionals are tying -recurrent concussions to a degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic en-cephalopathy.

 “This is what they believe happened to (NFL lineback-er) Junior Seau,” said Zologa.

Zologa sees many changes coming, including the possibility of doing away with a three- or four-point stance. If players stand upright, they can’t launch forward leading with their helmet every down.

 According to the Maryland Public Schools Secondary Athletic Association, the signs of a concussion are, but not limited to, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion and sensitivity to light.

Loss of consciousness can be a symptom but does not need to occur for a concussion to be present.

Many officials feel it is coming to the day that a licensed athletic trainer will be present at every game.

“The problem is that with many of the games there is no one with the proper training to make the decisions,” said Zologa.

Allegany and Fort Hill normally have a physician at their games; however, many schools, including Mountain Ridge, do not.

For more information on concussions in Maryland athletics and the suggested protocols, visit mpssaa.org.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com

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