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New protocol for concussion treatment in high school athletics

Athletes must be symptom free for 24 hours before they can resume activity

Bethlehem’s Katie Nickels, left, heads the ball during the first day of girls soccer practice Monday. Nickels suffered a concussion last season.

Bethlehem’s Katie Nickels, left, heads the ball during the first day of girls soccer practice Monday. Nickels suffered a concussion last season. Photo by Rob Jonas.

Dangerous hits in professional football and hockey brought attention to the effects of concussions on athletes.

Now, New York has a protocol for high school coaches to follow when one of their student-athletes suffers a concussion.

Starting with the fall sports season, the New York State Concussion Management and Awareness Act establishes procedures schools must follow. Athletes who suffer a concussion must receive immediate medical care and must be symptom free for 24 hours before they can resume light workouts. If at any time an athlete suffers any concussion symptoms (i.e. headache, blurry vision), they must cease athletic activity until they have been symptom free again for 24 hours.

“The old days of ‘I got dinged’ or ‘I got my bell rung,’ those days are over,” said Section II Football Chairman Gary VanDerzee. “They’re now erring on the side of caution.”

“I think it’s going to cause coaches to really think twice before putting a kid back in the game,” said Bethlehem Boys Soccer Coach Phil Ridgway.

Concussions and their effects on brain function have come under greater national scrutiny in recent years with cases such as NHL star Sidney Crosby, who missed much of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons while dealing with post-concussion syndrome, and former NFL player Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in 2011 after battling chronic headaches.

VanDerzee, who is also Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk’s football coach, said the notion of concussions being a football or hockey problem is ignoring the bigger picture.

“Football is the (sport) that’s being singled out, but over the last five years we’ve had more kids in other sports get concussions than football at Ravena,” said VanDerzee.

At the high school level, there wasn’t a statewide effort in New York to deal with concussions in sports. It was left up to the coaches to determine if a player was fit to return to action after being hit in the head. That wasn’t an easy thing for a coach to determine.

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