High school decides to tackle concussions well ahead of the blow


Testing for grades. Testing for Common Core. Now testing teen brains to see if they are later damaged.

Highland High School just decided to test all their student athletes to come up with numbers showing their baseline cognitive abilities. If they later are suspected to have a concussion, they can re-take the computer test to see if they have lost function.

Concussions are finally getting some attention thanks to NFL lawsuits and Will Smith movies, but the greatest danger is at our local high schools and junior highs. Young brains are growing and are most susceptible to lasting damage from concussions.

The injuries are poorly understood, especially in the culture of “rub a little dirt on it” that celebrates Kerri Strug sticking the landing on an injured ankle or the Yankee Clipper playing with a debilitating bone spur. Concussions are unseen, and students may try to hide them so they can keep playing.

While highest in football with 87 concussions per 100,000 times student athletes practice or play, girls soccer is not far behind at 58 concussions — double the rate of boys soccer. A concussion can come from a body blow as well as a blow to the head, and 95 percent happen without the athlete passing out.

A concussion can take two or three weeks to heal, and the student athlete is supposed to take it easy mentally as well as physically. That may require staying home and keeping the Xbox and iPhone off, then returning to school with some help taking notes or extra time for tests, and then a slow return to the sport.

Cutting corners while the brain is healing and then suffering another concussion can mean more severe and lasting damage. Nearly everything related to concussion detection and treatment is counter to sports culture or teen culture, so people will likely encourage the wrong thing and teens will be motivated to do the wrong thing. Here’s a piece of advice: If you haven’t taken time to understand it, don’t talk about it.

The Illinois High School Association is pushing new standards on benching a player and detailing exactly what coaches and trainers are expected to do in handling a concussion. Coaches are being encouraged to raise awareness with students and praise the athlete who takes himself out after a blow leaves him with a headache. They are supposed to talk to other teachers and explain Betsy is not malingering, that concussion care requires mental rest.

Most importantly, they must inform and educate parents.

But if you are a student athlete’s parent, don’t wait. Parents should educate themselves about concussions well before they find themselves looking at their child in the ER.