Concussions: "Impact" on Student-Athletes

ConcussionsST. JOHNSBURY - It's every athletes worst nightmare- no, not missing the last shot or striking out- but getting a concussion.  It happens to every one in five high school athletes each year, and the repercussions can be costly.

 Concussions have been creating a stir when it comes to high school athletics. St. Johnsbury Academy Athletic Director, David McGinn said, "But it's a stir for all the right reasons.  At the end of the day we are looking at a students well-being, their life plans are far more important than any of these sports activities that we offer, but we do know that it is part of our environment so being as well-educated and well-prepared to assist them an support them is a valid outcome of everything that's happening."

Before a Hilltopper takes their first step onto the practice field, they are required to take a base-line concussion test.  The test allows the school's Athletic Trainer, Chris Despins, to compare the initial testing of when the athlete was not suspected of having a head injury to the test they take when a concussion may have occurred. 

"As soon as we suspect there's a possible concussion, we remove them from the athletic play and we do a thorough evaluation, " said Despins. "Within 32 to 72 hours our students complete the impact neurocognitive testing, the athlete is then sent to see a physician. We then work with their teachers about gradual return to learn and gradual return to play."

According to Despins, it can take as soon as seven days or up to two months for the diagnosed student to return to his or her sport and classroom, depending on how severe the post-concussion symptoms are.

Besides not being able to perform in any athletic environment, student must also "take it easy" when it comes to the use of technology.

"The first thing is limiting any use of technology, iPads, computers, cell phones, things like that, said Despins. "Once they can start off with 30 minutes of doing reading activity and not have any increase in their symptoms, then we progress from there."

"The mind simply needs an opportunity to rest," said the Academy's Athletic Director, David McGinn.

Leading in sports with the most concussions is high school football.  St. Johnsbury Academy varsity football coach, Rich Alercio, says because of the rise in head injuries, he had to change the way he coaches his boys.

"We stopped doing any type of live contact at all, even through training camp, said Alercio, "We don't go live at any point in time."

That change has dramatically decreased the amount of concussions coach Alercio has seen over the years. Only three concussions were reported this past season. Compared to previous seasons, coach Alercio says, "I think three concussions in a football season- we are probably doing something pretty well."

Along with changing the way players practice. the St. Johnsbury Academy Athletic Trainer, Chris Despins, has changed the way he has his athletes exercise.  

"We do a lot of neck-strengthening exercises with our athletes that develop the neck and upper shoulder to develop those muscles that support the neck and head to minimize the whip-lashing effect of the brain up against the inner-skull," said Despins.

But like every other injury, concussions are not completely preventable.  

"Because at the end of the day these collisions happen.  It's a part of the sports environment, said McGinn, "I think we are doing a much better job at reducing them and helping to prevent them."

But sitting on the sidelines as an injured player may not seem appealing to some athletes and may cause them resist in seeking help.

"Culturally, athletes don't want to admit, 'I'm hurt, I can't play anymore,' said Alercio, "That's why I think both medical personnel and coaches need to be better educated to be able to identify that type of injury. The old-school approach of 'oh your okay, you just got your bell rung' that has to be eliminated in all athletics but football particularly."
    
"The central mission of  every school is its academic development of its students so when thats interrupted by injury", said McGinn, "that's challenging because even the athletes who are trying to recover are still then falling behind in their academic work and accommodations are made but it's obviously not the same as being in class."

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