Spring sports season is about to begin and that means something new this year for Prince William School athletics, concussion training.
Until recently the prevailing wisdom about concussions was simply to not fall asleep if you have one; but over the last five years, professional and college level sports have increased the knowledge of the dangers of concussions.
Based on new research and information Prince William County now requires that all students and parents attend an informative concussion session before their child participates in a school sponsored sport.
On Jan. 7 parents attended one such information session at Marsteller Middle School.
The session included scenes from the documentary 60 Second Impact, the story of Preston Plevretes, a former college athlete, who suffered a concussion during a helmet-to-helmet collision in a La Salle football game in 2005. Despite still suffering from symptoms of the concussion, Plevretes was encouraged to play in subsequent games. During one of those fateful games he suffered a second concussion, which caused permanent brain damage, leaving him barely about to walk or talk.
While the video seeks to bring awareness to the dangers of concussions which were previously dismissed, new regulations at Prince William County Schools makes playing sports with a concussion non-negotiable.
According to regulations enacted in 2011 all student athletes suffering concussion or experiencing symptoms of concussions will be pulled out of the game or practice. The only way a student can return to practice is with a physician’s note, and the only way an athlete can return to play in a game is with the approval from his or her coach.
Because of the severe consequences of a second concussion, PWCS coaches told parents they would rather ere on the side of caution.
But PWCS also wanted parents to be able to recognize if their child was suffering form a concussion, so as to provide proper medical care and protect the child from engaging in further activity.
Athletic director Michael Beyer informed the audience of the signs and symptoms of a concussion: dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, sleeplessness, sensitivity to light and sound, mood changes and difficulty concentrating and/or remembering. In addition girls and boys may experience different symptoms. Girls are more likely to get giddy, whereas boys may become angry or aggressive.
Marsteller coaches informed that once a child is diagnosed with a concussion, the amount of time it takes for him or her to recover varies greatly based on the severity of the concussion and physiology of the individual. Some athletes may have to sit out for weeks or months. But the recovery time does not just affect students’ participation in sports activities; students with severe concussion may be asked to refrain from difficult mental tasks as well.
Beyer compared the brain suffering from a concussion to a soda bottle that has been shaken, as they both require time to settle. People suffering from concussions should get plenty of rest. This will take priority even over academics, because the sooner the child’s brain can recover, the sooner that individual can return to full mental and emotional capacity, and the sooner they can transition out of the danger zone in which they are vulnerable to further complications.
This rest period is especially crucial for student athletes, since researchers have found that concussions are particularly harmful to people under 23-years-of-age, whose brains are still developing. Researchers have yet to study the effect on middle school age students, so Prince William County Middle Schools will be partnering with George Mason University, which received a grant to record such a study concussion in younger adolescents.
According to Beyer the response to the concussion training session has been positive with parents supporting the effort to keep their children safe. The only complaint he has heard is from parents who have to attend separate seminars if they have children in more than one school in the county.
It is possible that system may change, but right now Prince William County Schools is focused on awareness.
“I know I’ve got my bell rang a few times over the years,” said Beyer, “and then you’d get back in the game,” but now he said they are much more educated about concussions. “I think it’s probably been a long time coming. Over the past five years the whole country has found out the repercussions of a concussion.”
While most concussions occur in football or soccer, Beyer wanted to make parents aware that there are various ways for a person to suffer a concussion from the head hitting the ground, colliding head on with another athlete, being hit in the head with a ball, or even having the head snap back too quickly.
Jennifer Cardinale is a registered nurse, yet even she said she learned something attending the presentation at her son’s school.
“It made me think a little bit more about sending him back out (to play after a head injury,) said Cardinale.
Beyer said it is important for parents to be aware of concussions because it needs to be a team effort. Since athletes may hide symptoms in order to play in a game, everyone needs to be aware of the symptoms: parents, coaches, teachers and teammates.
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