In the past few years, the NFL has brought more high-level attention to the issue of concussions and their long-lasting effects on athletes.
Concussions are also something the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) and the Georgia High School Association has been taking seriously. In 2010, the NFHS took steps to better protect its student-athletes.
The improved guidelines took the responsibility out of the hands of game officials and coaches and turned it over to sports medicine professionals.
In part, the policy reads: “Any athlete who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion (such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems) shall be immediately removed from the contest and shall not return to play until cleared by an appropriate health-care professional.”
That’s when someone such as Jessica Kirby, head athletic trainer for Grovetown High School, steps in.
“It’s no longer, ‘It’s a grade one, so if your symptoms subside in 15 minutes you can go back in to play,’ which is kind of how it was when I started as an athletic trainer five or six years ago.” Kirby said. “Now the change is, if you have a concussion, no ifs, ands or buts, you are out of competition.”
The decision about whether an athlete returns is made by the athletic trainer.
“I love it,” Lakeside football coach Jarrett Troxler said of the policy.
While there is no real prevention to concussions, Kirby, who works for Doctors Hospital Sports Medicine, has taken additional steps in the recognition process. While not mandated, Kirby conducts baseline testing on Grovetown athletes and says the process has been beneficial.
“You need to know about your athlete so that when you go through a test and you suspect they have a concussion, you can kind of see the differences, or the lack of difference for that matter,” she said. “This year at Grovetown we started using the Impact program, which is a computer-based test for post-concussion testing. We use it as a baseline and a post-test.”
Treating a concussion is a different matter, as the brain needs time to recover.
“They need to spend a day or two chilling at home resting,” said Tim McClane, senior athletic trainer at Georgia Health Sciences Sports Medicine Center. “They need to back down cognitive and academic stimuli.”
McLane said they shouldn’t take tests at school and need to avoid activities including video games of a violent nature, cartoons and action movies because they all stimulate the brain too much.
In Columbia County, measures are starting at the earliest levels.
The county’s recreation department is working with Kirby to inform its coaches about the issue, sponsoring concussion sessions for Sept. 12 and Sept. 22 at Patriots Park.
The new Pop Warner football program is also on board.
“For anything that’s major, such as a concussion or possible concussion, a player is just not going to go back in the game, because our rules say he doesn’t come back in without a doctor signing off on him, and the doctor can’t be his dad,” said Burt Rayburn, East Georgia Pop Warner president. “No game is worth any of the children’s health.”
It’s not just football players who are susceptible to injury. So are cheerleaders.
“We had two last year, and whenever we have an issue, John Ellis (Doctors Hospital sports medicine coordinator) always comes up here and checks, and we had two that had to go through concussion protocol,” said Adell Poss, Evans High School cheerleading coach.