Parent Urges School Board to Take a Look

In Maryland, Montgomery County to be specific, the school board is taking – at the minimum – a look at what they can possibly do to help with the safety of the kids they are in charge of.  Lisa Gartner of The Examiner wrote a brief column on it;

Montgomery County school officials are weighing efforts to screen high school athletes for concussions and similar head injuries linked to Alzheimer’s-like disease and suicide.

Superintendent Joshua Starr said Tuesday that his staff is drafting a memo on concussions, while school board member Patricia O’Neill asked for a report on the cost and implementation of baseline screening, which would allow doctors to compare athletes’ brain activity before and after injuries.

“I know our budget doesn’t have an inch to spare,” O’Neill said, “but our students’ health obviously has to be paramount.”

As the board mentioned there is not much money there, so why are they entertaining the thought of using baseline tests?  It is just a tool that is often highly criticized for its results.  I feel that if baselines are needed then deals should be made with local doctors that use the tool and are trained to use the tool.  By deals I mean the baselines be given away or at a significantly high discount, then the doctors are in control.  Perhaps if the schools have outsourced athletic trainers the place of employment of the AT’s can defer or absorb the cost.

The point is that a Walt Whitman HS parent by the name of Tom Hearn made a pretty good case in his testimony in front of the school board but it did not include adding a cost, rather using common sense and removing some of the hitting in practices;

Good morning, Superintendent Starr and members of the Board, I am Tom Hearn and I am a Whitman High School parent.  I wanted to talk with you further about concussions in high school football and other sports.  It may not be highlighted in the job description, Dr. Starr, but you are the senior safety officer for sports in MCPS, and this may be the most important position that you play.

In sports vernacular, Dr. Starr, you are the Blind Side left tackle for the 2,400 MCPS students who play high school football and the 20,000 or so other high school athletes.

No one ever died from a bad academic education, but high school student athletes die or get serious brain injuries each year from football and other sports.  On a practical level, concussion interferes with a student’s ability to participate in academic education because his recovery depends on cognitive rest, which means reduced school work.  So concussions can really be a drag on AYP.

Football accounts for over half of the concussions in high school sports.  Emerging research, however, shows that subconcussive blows to the head also pose a serious risk to the human brain.  Studies have shown that high school football players sustain an average of 650 subconcussive blows to the head in a season.

Among student athletes playing the offense or defensive line, the number of subconcussive hits per season can be as high as 2,200.  (Please see the attached “Hit Count” Proposal by Dr. Robert Cantu of the Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University.)

Doctors believe that over time, these subconcussive blows can lead to an Alzheimer’s-like brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  CTE has been confirmed in several deceased NFL players and is suspected in NFL great Junior Seau’s suicide last week.  Seau’s family has donated Seau’s brain so that it can be autopsied to confirm the CTE diagnosis.

In light of this and similar research, what has been done?  In 2011, NFL players negotiated that teams are permitted no more than one full-contact practice per week.

The NCAA still permits 5 full-contact practices per week and two-a-day practices.  Last July (2011), however, the Ivy League imposed a 2 full-contact practice limit per week  in football.  The Ivy League also banned all two-a-day full padded football practices.

The Ivy League took this action based on the leadership of two of their university presidents who are medical doctors.   The Ivy League too this action on their own because their presidents felt that getting a consensus on such limits from the NCAA could take years and they thought it was too urgent to wait.   That’s what smart people do when faced with imperfect data about a serious health issue.

Although there is NO SCIENTIFIC or DEFINITIVE link to the collection of hits and CTE or Alzheimer’s the association is very high and simply taking a day or two of hitting away not only makes sense but it costs NOTHING.  I cannot fathom why a cash strapped school district would consider adding costs when they say they can’t; when there is another viable option that costs $0.00.

Good work by parents like Tom, keep up the pressure and we can make football safer (Matt Chaney just slammed his fist on the table, ha).

4 thoughts on “Parent Urges School Board to Take a Look

  1. A Concerned Mom May 14, 2012 / 10:49

    It’s good to see the need for concussion reduction brought before school boards! A very impressive presentation.

    One of the other issues I would like to see brought to the attention of school boards is the need for schools to be prepared to provide academic accommodations. Ideally, the focus should probably be on concussion reduction, recognition and appropriate management (focused first on return to school, and second on return to play.)

    Hopefully stepwise return to school protocols will get more attention going forward.

    “BOSTON – Children who present to a primary care practice following a head or facial injury must be carefully evaluated for signs and symptoms of concussion, and those with concussion should be advised to give their brains a break, recommended a pediatric injury specialist at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.”

    “She recommended that clinicians caring for children with suspected concussion ask about all symptoms individually in a systematic fashion, and prescribe a return-to-school protocol with a stepwise approach. The protocol includes a return to the previous step if an action elicits the return of symptoms, sending a standardized letter to notify the child’s school of the plan, and training the child’s parent or guardian to oversee the child’s progression from one step to the next.”

    • Educator Mom May 14, 2012 / 12:05

      As we get more and more attention to the need for a return to play protocols and concussion reduction, equal attention needs to be drawn to the academic needs of these athletes. How can we best educate them as they recover and how do we deal with them if they do not fully recover. In a recent meeting, I was given the indication that “these kinds of kids” can’t be in honors classes at the high school level. In most cases, their injury has not necessarily changed their potential or their ability level. It sometimes changes how they learn and how they can demonstrate what they have learned. These kids will not get better if they are constantly paddling upstream at a school that does not understand the nature of their injury or their academic needs.

  2. A Concerned Mom May 14, 2012 / 11:43

    “The Concussion Presentation by Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute was informative, interesting, and from a personal perspective it really hit home for me. My daughter was diagnosed this year with post concussion syndrome. She is a junior on the Nobles Girls Hockey team; after being diagnosed she could not return to school and had to take a year off to rest her brain and recover from her injury.”

    “If we do not make educated choices to implement positive change, the next Sydney Crosby may be a soccer player, or a basketball player–not a hockey player.”

  3. Jake Benford May 14, 2012 / 23:18

    This is how change happens. Hats off to Tom Hearn, with a speech like that, he can carry the torch for all of us.

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