Preventing Concussions in High School Athletes

Nebraska high school football teams compete in the state championships in Lincoln last year. (Photo by Josh Hartman)
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April 5, 2013 - 6:30am

5-10 percent of athletes will experience a concussion in any given sports season.   A new law passed last year in Nebraska aims to increase concussion awareness not just for high school athletes, but also coaches, athletic trainers and parents.

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On October 6, 2009 Scott Wineman was playing in a middle school football game for his Lincoln Lutheran Warriors when he went to make a tackle in the backfield.  That was the last play that day he remembers.

“I remember getting in the backfield and going to make the hit and then I just remember laying on the ground and trying to get up," Wineman said.  "And, I blacked out after that but I stayed in the game.  My grandpa videotaped it. “ 

Hours later at a relative’s house. Wineman began to feel disoriented, prompting a call to the doctor.  During the visit, the doctor determined he had fractured a vertebrae in his neck, a potentially fatal injury if it had broken.  Along with the fractured neck, Wineman also suffered two concussions -- one on the initial hit and another as a result of going back in the game after the hit.

The Concussion Awareness Act became Nebraska law last July, making the 2012/2013 school year its first full year.  Its main focus is to educate Nebraskans on the severity of concussions and the problems they pose for athletes, while identifying the need for an athlete to be kept out of play until symptoms are no longer visible.  Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha introduced the bill in the Nebraska Legislature.

“I was motivated by what I thought was the need to prevent successive concussions that can cause brain injuries,” Lathrop said.

Watch this Big Red Wrap Up Story on former Husker Blake Lawrence whose football career ended after suffering four concussions in 18 months:

Concussed:  Blake's Story

 

More Reporting on Concussions and Athletics from NET NEWS:

Creating Awareness of Concussion Symptoms by Roger Bartlett 11/16/12

 

From Near Death to Diploma:  UNL Student Fights Back from Brain Injury by MIke Tobias 12/12/11

 

Concussions Can Linger for Young Athletes by Grant Gerlock 4/11/11

 

High Schools Focus on Sports Head Injuries by Mike Tobias 8/10/10

 

Concussions have always been an issue in contact sports, especially football, but have only recently received renewed attention after studies have shown just how devastating they can be long-term.  Nebraska’s new law helps with education by requiring every school across Nebraska make available information on brain injuries and their effects before an athlete begins practice for his or her sport.

Lincoln Southwest athletic trainer Krystal Kjar has experienced firsthand the effects of the Concussion Awareness Act on her athletes.  She says her athletes now realize the dangers of playing through a concussion.

“We’ve had a more positive outcome here at Southwest and I think it goes back to we really try educate our kids on the importance on letting us know," Kjar said.  "They’ve kind of seen it first-hand.  A couple kids we suspected had a concussion, they had a headache, we pulled them.  Within a few days their scores returned to baseline and they got back a lot quicker than their teammate that hid it.”   

While it’s important for the athletes themselves to know the problems a concussion can cause, Kjar stresses the need for parents to understand as well.

“I think the biggest thing is educating our parents, a lot of our parents grew up in an era of 'I played through it. I played with a concussion,'" Kjar said.  "So I think a lot of that is really educating the parents on hey this is a serious deal as well as the kids because they hear some of that as well that you know you’re not letting your team down by letting us know what’s going on.”

Dr. Dennis Molfese is the director of the brain imaging research center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is an expert on cognitive processes of the brain, and has participated in research on identifying risk factors for concussions in athletics.  One factor Molfese is particularly adamant about is the possibility of subsequent concussions if an athlete is not removed from play once a concussion is sustained, something he says the new law helps.

“It’s a very important first step, so it helps with concussion awareness," Molfese said.  "It is important if somebody does experience a concussion, to get out of play. Because the brain is very vulnerable especially in that first 24-48 hours and they need to be protected.”

Molfese says suffering a consecutive concussion before the first one heals is often what results in long-term trouble for athletes.

It took Scott Wineman, the young football player with two concussions, until the fall of his eighth grade year to compete in sports again  Even then a year later, he was still preparing for the demand of football.

“After track in my eighth grade year I talked to my parents and we agreed that I could play football again, but I would have to work my but off in the weight room so if I got hit it wouldn’t be as bad or so I would be strong enough to protect myself,” Wineman said.

The grueling summer workouts were all worth it to Wineman who went on to letter his freshman year as a special teams player.  As a sophomore, he returned to the field as the starting varsity nose tackle, and helped the warriors to a berth in the state playoffs.  After all he’s been through since his injury, Wineman knows the dangers of concussions and how they can affect athletes at any level.  He says his injury already helped his school view concussions in a different way, and hopes with the new law, more schools will too. 

“I think to myself every time I go onto the sideline that this next play could very well be my last and that makes me go even harder,” Wineman said.

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