VHSL, NCAA both stepping up to plate on concussions


Marty Gordon

Editor’s note: This is part two of a series on concussions in sports, the danger and the proper protocol in dealing with them after a head injury takes place.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says high school athletes sustain an estimated 300,000 concussions per year, and high school football is consistently shown in studies to be the sport with the greatest proportion of concussions.

That same study shows that an unacceptable high percentage (39 percent) of high school and collegiate football players have suffered catastrophic head injuries. In addition, at least one player sustains a mild concussion in every American football game each year.

Both the Virginia High School League (VHSL) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are stepping up to make sure their student-athletes are healthier when dealing with these head injuries—in this case concussions.

On the high school level, all coaches in fall, winter and spring sports are required prior to the first practice to take a course that includes both education and prevention. An online video titled “Concussions in Sports, What You Need to Know” teaches them the signs, symptoms and treatment of concussions.

A big part of that policy reminds coaches that an athlete does not have to lose consciousness (be “knocked out”) to have suffered a concussion, and in most cases, does not even include a blow to the head.

Each individual school must then implement a concussion protocol and have medical staff and/or trainer available at each sporting event.

The VHSL is also quick to point out that athletes and their parents are not always honest about the symptoms that they might be experiencing. Thus, coaches, trainers and school administration must step up and be the bigger person when considering the student-athlete’s overall future health.

That policy includes the following:

No athlete should return to play (RTP) or practice on the same day of a concussion.

Any athlete suspected of having a concussion should be evaluated by an appropriate health-care professional that day.

Any athlete with a concussion should be medically cleared by an appropriate health-care professional prior to resuming participation in any practice or competition.

After medical clearance, RTP should follow a step-wise protocol with provisions for delayed RTP based upon return of any signs or symptoms.

The procedure is similar on the next level when dealing with collegiate student-athletes.

If you think your student-athlete has sustained a concussion, the NCAA says take him or her out of play immediately and allow adequate time for evaluation by a health care professional experienced in evaluating head injuries and concussions.

Every high school and college employs a training staff that can take care of the athletes in any scenario, and more and more coaches are trained to watch for symptoms. In addition, these same coaches and trainers are learning new techniques especially in football to avoid the so-called major injuries.

Also, new equipment keeps being designed to make football and head impact safer.

While the sport of football will have head impacts, governing bodies like the VHSL and NCAA are working hard to make it safer.

Will any of the above completely eliminate concussions? Probably not, but it does make what has become a “violent” sport a little more easier to deal with and play.