High schools, coaches consider new steps to deal with concussions

Jason Cinti, Staff Writer

Ever played a sport that involved some sort of physical contact? If so, then it may be a surprise to learn about the life-threatening consequences that a blow to the head could cause.

“In the United States, the annual incidence of sports-related concussion is estimated at 300,000,” according to the ImPACT website, a Pittsburg-based company that hosts computerized concussion evaluation systems. Almost 19 percent of all athletes in contact sports get at least one concussion per season.

Nate Cohen (’13) got a concussion when he was only 10 years old. Cohen was playing at a playground and he fell off the structure and hit his head.

Later that evening, after the pain had gone away from the blow to the head, Cohen “passed out on the floor in (his) house,” he said. When he tried to talk to his dad afterwards to tell him that he needed to go to the hospital, he could not articulate any words or complete a sentence.

“I was really scared because I forgot how to talk,” Cohen said. “It turned out I had a pretty major concussion.”

Founded in 1990 by Dr. Mark Lovell and Dr. Joseph Maroon, “ImPACT is a 20-minute test that has become a standard tool used in comprehensive clinical management of concussions for athletes of all ages,” according to the ImPACT website.

During Emma McCune’s (’12) sophomore year, she was skiing and got in an accident that resulted in a bloody nose and severe headaches. McCune shrugged it off as if nothing happened. Two weeks later, McCune was playing in a soccer game, and she “went for a header and ended up banging heads with this other girl,” she said.

“I blacked out for about two seconds and forgot where I was when I regained consciousness … I then woke up and just kept on playing,” McCune said. McCune did not get her head checked out and continued to play in practices and games.

Science teacher Sarah Clowes had many concussions while playing rugby in college. Clowes was hit by two girls from opposite directions, bringing her immediately to the ground and causing a severe concussion.

“I don’t remember falling … I just remember being on the ground. Afterwards I was disoriented. I felt nauseous for about a day and my teammates had to check on me while I was sleeping that night to make sure I didn’t black out,” said Clowes.

Blows to the head or any type of concussion happen all the time, and they are extremely hard to avoid especially when playing a contact sport. McCune did not know that she had a concussion and did not go to the hospital to get her injury properly checked upon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and teens are much more likely than adults to get a concussion, and it takes a lot longer for teens to recover from a concussion because the brain is not fully developed.

Although most athletes recover from a concussion, “an unknown number of these individuals may experience chronic cognitive or neurobehavioral difficulties,” said ImPACT’s website. Some of these life-long symptoms include chronic headaches, constant fatigue, and deficits in short-term memory and overall academic achievement.

ImPACT has been administered and used by athletic trainers, school nurses, athletic directors, and team coaches throughout the country. Under the ImPACT system, athletes take a test at the beginning of the season and again after an injury. These results are compared to see if an athlete has a sustained neurological injury.

ImPACT has reached many high schools around the Bay Area, such as Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Lick-Wilmdering High School.

Athletic Director Greg Angilly is well aware of ImPACT testing. “I think the potential (of ImPACT) is great because they are using it in professional sports too. If you can’t pass the test the second time (after the concussion), you’re not ready to go,” he said.

But Angilly has doubts about bringing ImPACT to Urban. “My fear is that I tell you guys what it is, and you go through it the first time in a slack way and you get a mediocre score on it, and then you know when you get a concussion you just have to do mediocre on it the second time and you’re back on (the field),” said Angilly.

Fortunately, both Angilly and Joe Skiffer, assistant head of athletics, are very gung-ho about not letting players continue to play after they get a head injury.

“We are not going to clear anyone at any game. If anyone has a head injury, they are done until a doctor says that they are good to go,” said Angilly.