Student Athletes Concussion bill means statewide guidelines, more precaution

  • Friday, August 23, 2013

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs the Student Athletes Concussion Bill. PHOTO PROVIDED

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Remember these numbers: 5, 17, 99 and 20. Got ‘em? Okay, hang on.

The Student Athletes Concussion bill was signed into legislation two weeks ago, creating statewide guidelines for student athletes trying to return to contact sports after suffering a suspected concussion. Pre-existing research and communication techniques are being used to implement the bill, so taxpayers won’t be blindsided with fees to support it.

“The player safety initiative is important to the National Football League on every level,” Jerry Richardson, Carolina Panthers owner and founder, said in a news release. “In passing the student athletes bill, the state of South Carolina is taking an important step in the prevention and treatment of concussions that occur.”

Among the bill’s particulars, highlights include:

– local school districts must enforce guidelines based on state standards

– parents or guardians must receive and provide written acknowledgement of those guidelines

– nationally credentialed guidelines for the concussions identification and treatment must be posted on DHEC and S.C. Department of Education websties

– student athletes suspected of suffering a concussion must be removed from play immediately

– student athletes can only be reinstated following a medical conclusion that a concussion did not occur

– physicians must provide medical clearance for student athletes with a suspected concussion before they are allowed to return to play

It passed the Senate (36-0) and House (109-0) floors unanimously. Dr. Bright McConnell, of Charleston Sports Medicine, applauded the bill.

“This is going to be the early phase of looking at a ‘ding count,’” McConnell said. “The athletes themselves sometimes are real protective about that in terms of, ‘Oh, I’m okay, coach’ or ‘It’s no big deal.’ And they don’t know what side of the field they’re standing on.”

McConnell, who has experience on the sidelines of the Florida Gators and Los Angeles Rams football teams in the 1980s, said it will not only help with student athlete safety, but also help the athletic trainers at events. There’s no more gray area whether a player should or should not return to action. With uniformly applied guidelines, it’s either a yes or no.

Sign form or go home

At the beginning of the official first day of high school football practice earlier this month, Bishop England football coach John Cantey huddled his players on the field. Words of encouragement weren’t the first things out of the veteran coach’s mouth. Instead, he called out a few names of players who hadn’t returned mandatory health forms.

“Last year, we started using the concussion test on the computer. Every player has to take it before he starts practicing,” Cantey said. “That’s their baseline test, so they know how the player’s brain functions when it’s healthy. If there’s a possible concussion, that player takes the test on the computer again and the results are compared.”

The players that Cantey called out did not have signed forms informing parents or guardians of concussion-related protocol. So, they were not allowed to practice until they had them signed and returned to Bishop England.

The Battling Bishops have had a player in each of the past two playoffs suffer a suspected concussion. Each time, Cantey held that player out of any physical activity for the entire week. He said he adheres to the advice of trainers and parents or guardians. “If they (trainers) say he can’t go, or if the parents say he can’t go, he’s not playing,” Cantey said. “When our trainers clear him, he can play.”

Recovery periods are deliberate. “You can’t rush it. They have to stay headache free for, I think, 24 hours, then they start light activity and progress to moderate, then full activity,” Cantey added. “If they get a headache at any point along the way, they have to start over.”

Taking steps to protect athletes isn’t new. Little League baseball leagues enforce pitch counts and there have been lengthy discussions about banning youth baseball pitchers from throwing curveballs because it can increase wear and tear on pitchers’ elbows.

A new brand of football helmet called the Xenith is used by more than 20 players in the NFL. While conventional helmets have foam padding, Xenith uses air-filled pads to act as shock absorbers. When the helmet is hit, the absorbers compress and then reinflate, so the energy is not taken on by the player’s skull.

Another product, the Shockbox sensor, can send mobile phone alerts over a Bluetooth connection when a strong hit is detected.

McConnell said while with the Gators and Rams early in his medical career, trainers on sidelines went through checklists of their own to determine whether it was safe for a player to return to action after a suspected concussion. Some of those tests checked motor skills, coordination and balance, short-term memory and examining visual trauma. He could tell a player to remember a series of numbers and ask him or her to repeat those after a short period of time. Remember the numbers listed at the beginning of the article?

“Believe me, there was a lot of times I’ve had to tell someone they couldn’t play. I know they wanted to play, and I know the coach wanted them to play, but it wasn’t in their best interest to do so,” McConnell said.

“If there’s any question about that, you have to fall on the side of protecting the athlete.”

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