Increased understanding and concern for sports-related concussions among high school athletes has led two local districts to take proactive steps to ensure their students’ well-being.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, concussion is a brain injury that causes temporary loss of normal brain function. Often there are no external signs of injury. While many people believe people with a concussion lose consciousness, in many cases, they do not.
Both USD 408 and USD 410 screen student athletes during sports physicals to obtain information that would be helpful if the student later is suspected of having a concussion.
Robert Rempel, athletic director for USD 410 at Hillsboro, said the school uses Sway testing first administered during sports physicals.
The Sway test measures balance and reaction time and can be performed with a mobile device, such as a smartphone. The test provides a baseline measurement that can be used as a reference if a head injury happens, Rempel said.
Sway’s affordable cost is one reason the school district chose to add the testing to their physicals.
“This is the first year we’ve done it,” Rempel said. “I’d say for the last five years we’ve heard of all of these anti-concussion tests. The problem is, they are expensive.”
Rempel said that head injuries to Hillsboro athletes might happen three or four times per year across the spectrum of high school sports.
If a Sway test has already been done and a blow to the head occurs, the results of the injury can be assessed right away, Rempel said.
“It’s been a good thing overall,” Rempel said. “I couldn’t honestly tell you we have more concussions now than we did before. This is just making people more aware of it.”
USD 408 also tests student athletes for baseline balance and reaction times during school physicals.
“We’ve done that for several years,” Superintendent Lee Leiker said. “We kind of jumped on it and said yes, let’s do this.”
Athletic Director Grant Thierolf said the test is done through St. Luke Hospital.
“They test all of our freshmen and get a baseline on them. If they have a growth spurt we do it again,” Thierolf said.
The school district decided to do the testing after it was recommended by physical therapists, Thierolf said.
The rest of the sports physical is done at the clinic.
USD 408 has had probably five or six head injuries during sporting events over the last five years, Thierolf said.
“When it’s appropriate we keep the student athlete out until we have a medical professional evaluate them,” Thierolf said. “You make your judgments based on what’s best for the students.”