Gazette opinion: Student safety: Stop playing with concussions

2013-02-12T00:30:00Z Gazette opinion: Student safety: Stop playing with concussions The Billings Gazette
February 12, 2013 12:30 am

Imagine being a 17-year-old high school football quarterback, a 14-year-old softball pitcher or a 12-year-old soccer goalie. If these young athletes got hit in the head during a game, but could still run, catch and kick, would they ask the coach to take them out? Would hard-training student-athletes complain about a headache or dizziness?

Probably not.

That’s why it is imperative that all youth sports coaches and athletic trainers know how to recognize symptoms of concussions and act to protect the health of their students.

According to studies published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, as many as 3.8 million recreation- and sports-related concussions occur annually in the United States.

“Children and adolescents are still undergoing a significant period of brain development and thus are even more susceptible to the damaging effects of a concussion,” Dr. Joel Brenner, medical director of the sports medicine program at a children’s hospital in Norfolk, Va., told a congressional committee. Three months after a concussion, children ages 8-16 still experience persistent problems, according to Brenner. Athletes with “two or more concussions demonstrate statistically lower grade-point-averages compared with similar students who haven’t had concussions.” Furthermore, youth athletes are at high risk for “second-impact syndrome,” a condition that occurs when the child or adolescent sustains another head injury before symptoms associated with the first one have fully cleared. This syndrome can result in swelling of the brain and death.

43 states’ laws

So far, 43 states have enacted laws requiring concussion safety standards to be applied to their young athletes.

Montana is one of the few states without a youth sports concussion law. Fortunately for our kids, that can change soon.

On Friday, the Montana Senate approved Senate Bill 112, which would require coaches to be trained annually on recognizing symptoms of concussions. The bill would require schools and school districts to have a policy on student concussions that includes a rule that a student with symptoms of concussion or whom the coach suspects has a concussion be removed from play until a licensed medical professional has examined the athlete and determined it is safe for him or her to resume play.

“We have these kids’ lives in our hands, and we know for a fact that these traumatic brain injuries, when they happen in rapid succession, can cause permanent, long-term brain injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives,” said Anders Blewett, the bill’s chief sponsor. The Great Falls Democrat played football in high school, college and on an arena team.

This bill won’t eliminate concussion risk; it will reduce the risk that suffering a concussion results in permanent injury or death.

The right call

“We cannot prevent this injury, but with this bill, we have an opportunity to be the advocate for these young student athletes that they can’t be for themselves, because we know more about what they’re dealing with,” said Benjamin Phipps, a Billings sports medicine physician.

What’s more important: playing one game or protecting a young athlete’s brain for a lifetime? Student safety is the right call.

We thank the 33 senators who supported SB112, including Elsie Arntzen, Taylor Brown, Robyn Driscoll, Jeff Essmann, Alan Olson, Mike Phillips, Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, Kendall Van Dyk and Jonathan Windy Boy.

We call on members of the House to support this common sense legislation and send it to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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