Local schools test for concussions


When school resumes at Woodside High, students planning to play tennis or golf don't face the same preparation for play as students interested in contact sports such as football or soccer or lacrosse.

In a program begun a year ago, Woodside students signing up -- for the first time -- for contact sports will undergo neurological tests to measure their reaction time and visual and verbal perception, said Athletic Director Chuck Velschow.

With that data as a baseline, after a collision or fall on the field, medics and trainers on the scene can retest athletes and determine whether they have experienced a concussion. The data is considered good for two years, so students get new baselines every other year, Mr. Velschow said.

Testing of Menlo-Atherton football players began in the spring, and will begin for all contact-sport athletes in the 2015-16 school year, Co-Athletic Director Steven Kryger said. And testing is ongoing at area private high schools, athletic directors said.

Still, the topic has currency. The San Mateo County civil grand jury in a June 29 report examined head trauma among high school athletes in the county and what might be done to prevent it. For its report, the grand jury consulted online sources and interviewed officials from the Peninsula Athletic League and county high school districts.

In general, the report commended the Peninsula league and the large high school districts in caring for concussed students before they return to play.

Experts say that repeated concussions and playing before a concussion has healed are particularly hazardous to brain health. A rest of at least seven days, including periods of no driving, light exercise and not attending school, are among the requirements set by the California Interscholastic Federation, which sets Peninsula league standards.

The grand jury concluded, that given neurological testing's modest cost, it should be done countywide, and that the Peninsula league should establish a head-injury database. And every school should have certified trainers on staff.

Certified trainers are at Woodside and M-A, as well as the Woodside Priory in Portola Valley, and Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton, according to the schools' athletic directors.

70 mph

Concussion statistics are sobering. According to the Sports Concussion Institute in Los Angeles, football players face a 75 percent chance of a concussion and soccer players 50 percent. At a professional level, a kicked soccer ball can deliver an impact equivalent to 70 mph to a player heading the ball.

Forty-seven percent of athletes do not report feeling symptoms after a concussive blow, and "some studies" suggest that women are twice as vulnerable as men, the institute says.

Mr. Velschow of Woodside High complimented the grand jury, calling its report thorough and accurate. In the coming year, Woodside's focus will be educating parents on concussion recovery, he said.

Woodside's trainer, who is instrumental in determining an athlete's return to play, has frustrated coaches at times, Mr. Velschow said, but has done "an excellent job of diagnosing concussions and working with athletes on their recovery."

M-A coaches have not pushed back over trainer's decisions, Mr. Kryger said. M-A will be adding testing for volleyball athletes in the fall and other contact sports as their seasons come along, he said.

M-A has a relationship with Stanford University to have athletes tested within 24 hours of a potential concussion to determine whether further steps are needed, Mr. Kryger said.

Woodside Priory tests all students, including middle school, for all sports, Athletic Director Mark Stogner said.

Sacred Heart Prep follows national and state protocols, and coordinates with school nurses and counselors on athletes returning to play, spokeswoman Diana Chamorro said.

Menlo School is "in the forefront" of treating head injuries, trainer Head Athletic Trainer Jon Cohen said. Kris Weems, the athletic director, said, "We couldn't be more pleased that the issues surrounding concussions in youth sports are part of the national and local discussions."

Menlo School is hosting a conference on concussions on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Menlo School Athletic Center.

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