File photos are from the Daniel Boone/Science Hill game that took place on Oct. 25, 2013. Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press.
Local school districts are in the process of implementing a new state law designed to protect student-athletes from traumatic brain injuries.
The new law, enacted at the beginning of the year, requires school districts to adopt new policies dictating that students showing signs of concussions during athletic events are immediately removed from play and mandating that coaching staff members are trained to recognize those symptoms.
The law also calls for districts to distribute information outlining the risks and symptoms of concussions to parents and athletes each year and have them sign and return the forms.
The Washington County Board of Education enacted the new policies at its January meeting, and Daniel Boone Athletics Director Danny Good said most of the new law’s stipulations have already been fulfilled.
“We take all injuries to our students very seriously, and we want to make sure they’re taken care of as best we can,” Good said Monday.
He said trainer Craig Morehouse is on the grounds during all school team sporting events, using his knowledge and technology to diagnose suspected concussions.
The trainer uses a cell phone application at the start of the season to record a baseline for each athlete on a series of cognitive tests, then administers the test again on the sidelines when injury is suspected.
“If there are any indications of a concussion, he parks them,” Good said. “A few days later, when they start to clear up, the headaches and the nausea goes away, he’ll start them with some light activity, like a short jog, to see how they feel after that.”
If a player suffers from two concussions in a year, he or she is automatically benched for two weeks, and only after that can they start working to rejoin team activities.
Multiple concussions during one season are rare at the high school level, Good said, adding that the last athlete subject to the two-week rule suffered his first concussion over the summer during a water skiing accident not related to the school and his second during a football game.
Good said Daniel Boone’s concussion report generally follows national trends, with football bringing the most last year (25), followed by girls soccer (four) and then basketball (two).
As sports injury research continues and game science develops, Good said the coaching staff at the school fully understand the dangers of traumatic brain injuries and take them seriously.
“They’re not going to push a kid, whether it be a concussion or sprained ankle,” he said. “Sometimes, you might see parents pushing the kid to get back in the game, but whatever our athletic trainer says, that’s what we do. We even from time to time get some competitive student athletes out there, and I’ve seen Mr. Morehouse take their helmet away from them, and I’ve had to take a player’s helmet and lock it up in the locker room to keep them from going back in.”
Daniel Boone also contracts with a sports equipment company to analyze football helmets and shoulder pads for defects and refurbish those that pass inspection.
State law requires all helmets to be replaced after 10 years of use, but Good said his school’s helmets don’t usually last that long.
Good said the state-mandated forms and training for parents is ready to be rolled out when spring sports start in a couple of months.
Parents will be directed to the National Federation of State High School Association’s website, where they will be able to view a free presentation discussing the dangers and signs of concussions.
“More than anything, we’re making them aware of what a concussion is and what signs are,” he said. “They’re with their children a lot more than we are, so they should be able to recognize any of the symptoms and let us know if they notice anything different.”
The Johnson City Schools Board of Education is scheduled for its first reading of the new sports concussion policy next month, district Human Resources director and legal counsel Lee Patterson said.
In the meantime, the schools’ coaches have already implemented the changes at the field level and staff have undergone the required courses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 5 percent to 10 percent of all athletes will experience a concussion in any given sport season.
A player with one concussion becomes more likely to suffer the next, with increasing likelihood with each subsequent concussion.
The long-term effects of multiple concussions on the human brain is still a subject of study, but physicians believe it can lead to cognitive impairment later in life.