For parents worried about student-athletes risking head injuries, one effort to reduce that risk could be coming soon.
U.S. Representative Tim Bishop announced on November 19 that he and fellow lawmakers will be urging legislation to strengthen schools’ procedures for preventing, detecting and treating concussions suffered by student-athletes while competing in sports.
Bishop explained that the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act would do three things: educate students, parents and coaches about concussions; require student-athletes to receive adequate medical attention after suffering a concussion; and require athletes who have suffered concussions to get written consent to return to play.
“We would make a requirement of all schools who receive federal aid, which a large portion of the schools in this country do, to have a concussion management plan in writing,” the Southampton legislator said.
Many schools on the East End, and across New York State, already have concussion management protocols in place, since the New York State Public High School Athletic Association had the schools adopt policies a few years back. Both Southampton and Westhampton Beach school districts, for example, have lengthy policies that they follow when a player suffers head trauma from an injury. Both districts, according to their respective athletic directors, also take the time to educate their players, coaches and parents about concussions.
A key tool that Southampton and Westhampton Beach utilize is imPACT, or Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. The program leads each student-athlete through a number of questions while healthy to get their baseline brain activity. When the student-athlete suffers a concussion, the test is administered again and compared to when they were healthy to identify any changes in brain activity.
“We implemented imPACT this past fall, with great success,” said Kathy Masterson, athletic director at Westhampton Beach. “It’s a great tool, and every team, from varsity straight to middle school, has taken it. And what’s great about it is that if a kid tries to fake not having an injury, it will notice that and it will kick it right back, and the kid will have to take it again.”
Southampton implements imPACT as well, and Athletic Director Darren Phillips agreed that it’s a great program. The one drawback, he said, is that there aren’t many doctors, if any at all, on the East End who can read the information the program generates. The closest hospital that works with imPACT is St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.
“So it’s 50-50 with us in having the kids actually go to St. Charles and get their tests fully done,” Phillips said. “It can be tough for some of the kids out here to get to Port Jeff.”
Masterson and Phillips said they would like parents to be better educated on concussion injuries. Many parents are aware that head injuries can occur in high-contact sports, such as football. But concussions also occur in basketball, tennis, volleyball and wrestling.
Bishop’s legislation talks about educating parents, along with players and coaches. He said there are a lot of facts that many people are not aware of, such as that 40 percent of players who have suffered concussions return to play before they are fully recovered.
“We have had some hard times with parents understanding the seriousness of concussions,” Phillips said. “They don’t understand why it takes so long for their kid to get back on the field, and we have a two-week minimum policy but sometimes they want to fight us on that. But policy is policy.”
There was a similar bill in 2009, but Bishop said that bill never came to a vote. With concussions garnering more media attention in recent years, though, the legislator said he thinks his bill carries more weight this time. He also noted that there are many stakeholders now—such as the National Football League and National Hockey League—who have a deep interest in concussions.
Bishop said he could not predict when or if the bill would be subject to a vote in the House of Representatives, but he is hoping it can gain some steam in the months ahead. Masterson and Phillips said they would support it; Masterson said she thinks New York State is already ahead of the curve.
Phillips, meanwhile, is well aware of the dangers of concussions. He had a son in the Westhampton Beach School District suffer one recently.
“My son said he didn’t know if he would play [football] again, and I would agree with that,” Phillips said. “It’s a scary injury, and one that’s important to his well-being, so why risk it?”