Rock Hill school board takes initial look at concussion policy for student-athletes

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comSeptember 10, 2013 

The Rock Hill school board has given initial approval to a policy for treating student-athletes who may have suffered head injuries such as concussions in games or practices.

PAUL OSMUNDSON — posmundson@heraldonline.com

Rock Hill school board members got their first look this week at a new district policy regarding concussions and student-athletes.

The policy was created in response to a new South Carolina law regarding youth concussions passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley in June, said Rock Hill High School athletic director Bill Warren, who presented the policy at Monday’s board meeting.

The state law mandates each school district formally develop its own concussion policy and guidelines based on recommendations from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. The law also requires athletes who may have suffered a concussion to be removed from the field for evaluation and educating athletes and their parents about the dangers of concussions.

“Currently, each school has their own (concussion policy) and have had their own for many years,” Warren said in an interview on Tuesday.

The only difference between the current procedures in Rock Hill schools and the proposed policy is the mandatory sign-off by parents after reading about concussions.

A concussion is a blow from an external force to the head where the force of the blow causes problems with the brain, said Joyce Davis, the executive director of the South Carolina Brain Injury Association.

Many athletes who sustain a concussion lose conciousness, at least briefly, but there are also plenty who do not.

“It’s those that do not that sometimes go undiagnosed,” Davis said.

Symptoms of a concussion could include dizziness, blurred vision and memory problems.

Under Rock Hill’s policy, if an athlete is suspected of sustaining a concussion, he or she must leave practice or the game until a physicianevaluates the extent of the injury. If cleared, the athlete can return to the practice or game. If it’s determined the student has suffered a concussion, written permission from a physician is required before the athlete can begin what’s called “gradual return to play,” Warren said.

A athlete should be symptom-free for a minimum of five days before even starting the gradual return to play, Davis said.

“It’s a true gradual return, you don’t just go back to practice,” she said.

Davis said guidelines for the gradual return to play weren’t mentioned in the state law, so each school’s policy needs to include specifics, such as the five-day symptom-free minimum.

If an athlete returns without adequate time to recover from a concussion, they’re at risk from suffering what’s called “second impact syndrome,” which can result in death, Davis said.

Concussions can be found in every sport, and not just impact sports such as football, Warren said.

“A lot of times, it doesn’t have to be contact with another individual, it can be contact with the ground,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily even need contact, all you need is a sudden impact movement.”

In the past, head injuries often were treated with a “shake it off” mentality, both Davis and Warren said. But more research has come to light identifying the immediate and long-term impact of head injuries.

Last month, the National Football League settled a lawsuit brought by former players about concussion-related issues for $765 million. A similar lawsuit has been filed against the NCAA.

At Monday’s meeting, as the new policy was discussed, school board members praised Warren and the others in the district for the work they’ve done to help identify and treat concussions.

“It’s just such a step in the right direction because in our athletics, the potential for concussions is there,” said board member Walter Brown.

While the Rock Hill school district has had good practices surrounding concussions for several years, Brown said he’s pleased there will be a formal policy.

“I’m happy to see a law passed in Columbia to say, ‘You will pay attention to concussions.’”

High schools in Rock Hill are fortunate, Warren said, because each has at least one athletic trainer. The trainer is accessible for all practices and games. Not all school districts in South Carolina are as fortunate, he said.

“The best scenario is to have an athletic trainer at every practice and every game,” Davis said.

Some board members expressed concern about who would be making important decisions about concussions at the middle school level, where there aren’t athletic trainers. Warren said changes to clarify that issue would be made.

“The athletic director will be in charge of either doing it themselves or appointing someone,” he said.

The board saw the policy for the first time at Monday’s meeting. It requires at least two readings, so they will view it again at the next work session. The earliest it could be adopted formally is the end of October, but Brown said Tuesday there shouldn’t be any problems in getting the policy passed.

“Based on the reaction I saw at last night’s board meeting, I wouldn’t anticipate any hiccups by any means,” he said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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