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.
“I’m in my 34th year of coaching, and I don’t know if I ever had a kid who suffered a concussion,” said Berne-Knox-Westerlo Boys Soccer Coach Jim Gillis, who is also the Section II chairman in his sport. “There was one kid in my first or second year coaching at Berne who suffered a head injury during a game, but he had such a big knot on his forehead that he had to go to the doctor.
“I’ve had kids who sort of hid stuff from me so they could play,” added Gillis. “Their teachers could tell if they were OK because they could see if they were paying attention in class. But if I saw a kid five minutes before a game and asked if they had a headache and they told me ‘no,’ then I’d put him in.”
With the new protocol in place, the coaches now have a clear set of rules to follow.
“I’m one of those people who say that I’d rather turn it over to somebody who knows about this sort of thing than leave it up to me,” said Bethlehem Girls Soccer Coach Tom Rogan.
“I think it’s overdue,” added Ridgway. “We should have had this years ago for the players’ safety.”
Bethlehem soccer players Ethan Gunty and Katie Nickels suffered concussions last year. Gunty missed more than two weeks while recovering from his concussion, while Nickels returned to action one week after her head was kicked by an opposing player.
“I remember being in school and having headaches in class,” said Gunty. “I had to sit myself out for two weeks and tell myself that I still had the end of the season to think about.”
“When I went down and I came back up, I wanted to stay in the game at that point,” said Nickels. “Looking back, I’m glad I had to come out because if I had gotten hurt worse, I would have had to stop playing for a longer period of time.”
Gunty said he is glad there is now a set of guidelines in place to help student-athletes recover from concussions.
“The thing about concussions is you never know how long they will last,” said Gunty. “Concussions are something you don’t fool around with, so you want to be cautious.”
And for the coaches, it gives them the authority to tell their athletes they need to take a seat if they show any signs of a concussion.
“My line to the girls is your mind is more important to me than soccer is,” said Rogan.
Associate editor/sports editor