CHEYENNE, Wyo. — New protocols for dealing with concussions suffered by student-athletes in junior high and high school sports appear to be working well, but more can be done, such as educating classroom teachers about brain injuries, officials say.
Ted Schroeder, executive director of the Wyoming Coaches Association, said he hasn’t heard any concerns or problems from coaches about concussion policies.
Schroeder, who retired recently after coaching football and track for 37 years, said everyone recognizes the need to be aware of concussions.
“It’s obviously needed,” he said. “We need to control how players are re-entering the game.”
There has been an increasing awareness of concussions in recent years after prominent brain injuries and disease in former NFL players, driven in part by some high-profile suicides.
Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school or community sports, it’s not clear how many suffer concussions. In Wyoming, there is no organization or government agency that keeps count of the number of concussions suffered among youth.
In 2011, the Wyoming Legislature mandated that all 48 school districts in the state adopt concussion policies that include addressing when an athlete who suffers a concussion can return to play, training coaches about concussions, and identifying ways to inform athletes and parents about concussions and any resulting restrictions. The law didn’t mandate specific standards for handling concussions and head injuries, leaving the specifics up to each district.
The Wyoming High School Athletics Association offers concussion courses and information to coaches, parents and others through clinics and its website.
“I think it’s working pretty well, really,” WHSAA commissioner Ron Laird said. “We always keep re-emphasizing that the saying that we use and through the education that we have on our website is, ‘When in doubt sit them out,’ and so I think our schools are doing a pretty good job with that.”
Handling concussions is more challenging to small school districts because they may not have readily available physicians to examine a student who may have suffered a concussion, Laird said.
“But they’re taking precautions and if they don’t have that, then the kid just doesn’t come back in until they get him to somebody that can see him,” he said.
Parents are becoming more educated about concussions, but schools and coaches need their help, Laird said.
It’s important for parents to inform the coach of the school sport their child is involved with if the student-athlete suffers head injuries outside the school, such as while skiing on a family vacation, Laird said.
Improvement also is needed on communicating to teachers that brain injuries can impair a student’s performance in the classroom for a time as well, he said.
“So that part, I think, we still got a ways to go with, mainly because they (the teachers) really don’t understand it because they’re not dealing with it like our coaches are,” Laird said.