New Ohio Law Aims To Mitigate Youth Sports Concussions

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File photo(Photo: Flickr)
File photo(Photo: Flickr)

There’s been a lot of talk in the sports world lately about the effects of concussions on professional athletes. But school-aged athletes suffer concussions, too. Last month Governor John Kasich signed into law a bill designed to mitigate the effects of concussions that occur at youth sporting events.

Across Ohio, thousands of young student-athletes are involved in team sports. Too often, however, players receive traumatic blows to the head known as concussions.

“The word concussion is a Latin term that means to shake violently so it’s any injury where the brain, which is really a jelly-like consistency, is shaken violently and frequently ends up abutting the skull, which is, of course, rigid,” says Dr. Anthony Ewald.

Ewald is a physician with Max Sports Medicine. He’s also team physician for Otterbein University and Westerville North High School. Though he cannot give exact figures, Ewald says concussions are extremely common, particularly in high impact and collision sports such as football, ice hockey and soccer.

“It’s a hard question to answer because a lot of athletes may underreport or maybe misrepresent their symptoms with the goal of staying on the field,” Ewald says. “In my own experience per a varsity football game which is four 12-minute quarters there’s going to be at least one if not two or three in that given game.”

Last week a colleague of Ewald’s, Doctor Thomas Hospel, took part in a presentation about concussions at the Dublin Public Library. Doctor Hospel says student athletes try to evade the concussion question because they want to stay in the game.

“Their first thought is, ‘I can play through this. I want to play through this. I want to do it for my teammates. I want to impress my coach. I don’t want to let down some of my friends who are here cheering me on. I want to be though. I want to have the reputation of somebody who’s tough who can play through it,’” Hospel says.

But Ohio’s new law mandates that coaches and other personnel such as athletic trainers keep a sharper eye out for signs of concussion in their players. That’s something that Dr. Ewald already does.

“We’re looking for people that get up slowly, that look groggy, that are kind of slow getting back to the huddle, or off to the sidelines. So, yes, we are absolutely looking for clues as to whether or not someone may have incurred one of these injuries,” Ewald says.

The new law does not require that a physician attend every sporting event. But it does require that a player suspected of having a concussion be taken out of the game or out of practice. That player cannot return until he or she has been evaluated and cleared by a physician.

House Bill 143 also requires that coaching personnel take training to recognize brain injuries. That training will be implemented by the state department of health. This is the health department’s Cameron McNamee.

“The training is really an overview of the signs and symptoms of concussions; how to recognize them and what to do when you suspect a player of sustaining a concussion during practice or play,” says McNamee.

The law also requires the health department to produce a concussion fact sheet that parents must return with their signatures before a student is eligible to play.

Scott Kasun oversees the football program at Saint Brigid Catholic School in Dublin. Kasun himself experienced concussions as a young football player.

“It’s safe to say that I’ve had at least ten concussions if not more in my playing career,” Kasun says. “And the days of getting a big slobber knocker and the coach coming over and looking you in the eye and asking you what day of the week it is, I have found out now how incredibly unsafe that really is.”

It’s unsafe because concussions take time to heal. Returning a player to sports too quickly can have disastrous results. Dr. Steven Simensky, a neurologist at Grant Medical Center, gives this analogy.

“How do you know that you’ve suffered a knee injury? Well, you know, it swells, it pops, it locks and you limp on it, it hurts. Would you then allow the athlete the next day to go run on it? Well, no; that would only create more damage. The same is true about concussions. Why would you allow an athlete whose brain has been injured back into an environment where you’re only going to cause more problems,” Simensky asks.

Here again is Doctor Anthony Ewald:

“The average concussion takes maybe seven to ten days to heal. If we get another hit to the head too soon, we may have just turned another seven day problem into a seven week problem or a seven month problem. And that we do see frequently,” Ewald says.

House Bill 143 takes effect in late April.

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