Only Miles, Huge Deviations in Concussion Protocol between MCPS and DCPS Athletics

The 2015 movie Concussion was the solidifying factor in completely turning concussions in to a mainstream topic. Before that, the subject of concussions was swept away like dust, a taboo concept relegated to back doctor’s offices and old files collecting dust in administrative file cabinets. But the genie has now completely, albeit slowly been let out of the bottle. With increasing pressure from medical professionals, families of suffering retired athletes, and former professional football players themselves, the NFL is slowly but increasingly admitting the obvious link between contact sports and degenerative brain disease. Most recently in late March, the NFL made its most straightforward acknowledgement of the link to date when its senior vice-president for health and safety policy indicated that he was certain of the connection between contact sports and subsequent neural malfunctions.

Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, even though many were aware of said cat for years before the NFL would acknowledge it, concussions are just an addition to the bevy of silent threats that infiltrate the medical world. You can’t see them, but the effects can become glaringly obvious if these injuries aren’t handled correctly.

“Concussions have come in and out of the public eye for over 130 years” said Katherine “Price” Snedaker, a Connecticut-based concussion advocate and founder of SportsCAPP, a concussion awareness program for those involved in youth sports leagues. “But there are no hard, fast numbers for anything or any one age group when it comes to a concussion because all facts are based on ‘reported concussions.”’

It is clear that collegiate programs are lacking in their establishment of effective concussion protocol. In a 2014 survey of 1066 collegiate institutions completed by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while a large majority of collegiate athletic programs have protocol for when an athlete sustains a concussion, the guidelines need many improvements. Of 2,081 participants in college athletics in 2012-2013, 206 of those students (roughly 9 percent) sustained a total of 211 concussions.

Weaknesses within collegiate athletic training programs are called in to question as the dark shadow cast over the NFL gains more acknowledgement. This has resulted in a bottom-up approach in concussion prevention and treatment in sports. The foundation for advocacy and proper ways to deal with concussions has been established within youth sports programs and high school sports programs. The effectiveness of many different youth programs has served as a framework for many collegiate programs.

Concussions in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)

MCPS concussion specialist Jeffrey Sullivan considers MCPS policy as one of the top in the country; way ahead of the mainstream when it comes to the education and treatment of brain injuries that are the result of athletics.

“We are at the forefront of medical changes in high school sports; we had many of these protocols in place before a lot of the state concussion laws were enacted” Sullivan said in an April 18 telephone discussion.

The concussion policies within MCPS athletics are based on education. The priority for administrators is to educate students, parents, trainers and coaches. At the beginning of each athletic season, the county presents student-athletes with an Athlete Healthy & Safety PowerPoint that highlights the most common symptoms of concussions, what one should do if he or she believes a he has suffered a concussion, and how a student’s return to play should be handled. In recent years, athletic trainers have been a priority in MCPS.

“This is the first year that all 25 MCPS high schools have athletic trainers for sports,” Sullivan said. “Trainers attend all home games on-site and treat both competing teams when an injury is sustained.”

The pool of trainers employed by MCPS is picked from four local vendors that the county has entered in to a three-year contract with: Adventist Healthcare, MedStar Health, Pivot Physical Therapy and Maryland Orthopedic specialist.

Concussions in MCPS
Concussions in MCPS

In an article published in the Washington Post in 2015, MCPS director of athletics William “Duke” Beattie said the county pays roughly $20,000 per trainer that it employs.

MCPS, like many other counties, also uses ImPACT testing for its student-athletes. Every two years, all athletes are required to undergo ImPACT baseline testing. The test measure brain functioning in students under normal circumstances and is taken again post-concussion when a student is injured. The two tests are then compared to measure an athlete’s brain functioning. However, while the test is mandatory within the county, it is an optional resource that can be used by a student-athlete’s personal doctor.

“MCPS as a whole is very in-tune with what’s going on with concussions and our students,” Sullivan said. “The county as a whole has a five-step concussion plan established whereby we use education, baseline testing, trainers, procedures, and a step-by-step return to play procedure that we are confident is effective.”

While Sullivan notes that the recent spotlight on concussions has not lead to a noticeable decrease in participation in contact sports, they county is already planning to usher in courses and training programs on how to properly block and tackle in football.

“Many members of the MCPS athletics administration are a parents too,” Sullivan said. “We are all very worried about our children and just want them to be safe and have their well-being placed in good hands.”

Concussions in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS)

While only a short drive or metro ride away from MCPS, DCPS’s athletic department takes a very different approach to concussions from their suburban-Maryland counterparts.

The DCPS administration does not have the rock solid foundation that has been a hallmark of MCPS for decades. DCPS Athletic Director Stephanie Evans has been on leave since late 2015 amidst reports of high turnover, inconsistent records, and a floundering budget.

When a DCPS student-athlete suffers a concussion, the athlete is removed from activity, and is not allowed to participate in athletics the next day. In order to begin the return-to-play process, the athlete must be asymptomatic for at least 48 hours. If an athlete sustains multiple concussions in one season, they need a doctor’s approval to return for the next season. DCPS began mandatory ImPACT testing for all student-athletes only five years ago.

According to DCPS Lead Athletic Trainer Jamila Watson, DCPS uses a return-to-play protocol that was created by the concussion department of Children’s National Medical Center

“We use [Children’s] as guidance for how we handle brain injuries, and their recommendations have been successful in effectively treating concussions” Watson said in an April 21 telephone conversation.

While not as in-depth as MCPS, concussion protocol and safety within DCPS has been a priority since before studies on concussions and their lasting impacts became in vogue.

“The way DCPS handles athletic injuries can really be considered a benchmark because we have had 12 full-time athletic trainers for 26 years, way before other schools had trainers on staff,” Watson said. “We were that benchmark and everyone followed suit.”

A testament to the dedication of athletic trainers within DCPS is that fact that some of these original athletic trainers are still on staff. These days, they focus on being present in practices and pushing coaches to modify student-athlete techniques in hopes of eliminating concussions in practice that could result from a poorly executed hit or tackle.

The policies DCPS currently has in place appear to be effective. According to the athletic administration, during the 2014-2015 academic year 61 our of 2,922-or two percent- of student athletes suffered a concussion.

Future Protocol

While public schools work hard to create guidelines and reforms in order to decrease concussions in public schools, there has also been an increase in awareness programs throughout towns and sports leagues.

Snedaker’s program, SportsCAPP, is the primary program used to educate and evaluate concussions in all of Norwalk, Connecticut’s recreational sports leagues and athletic programs. The goal of SportsCAPP is to lower the liability for the city and its sports programs in the event that a major head injury is sustained.

“It is suspected that only less than half of the number in each age group actually report concussions,” Snedaker said. “Missed concussions are the first big issue because students keep playing and run the huge risk of getting hit a second time.”

Snedaker’s program aims to educate athletes and coaches on how to accurately evaluate a hit to the head and understand when it is really okay to return to play. SportsCAPP has been implemented in five baseball leagues, two soccer leagues, lacrosse leagues, basketball leagues, field hockey leagues and football leagues throughout the area. It has resulted in over 1,000 trained coaches for 6,000 youth players.

Through SportsCAPP, the city of Norwalk has established a concussion protocol that in some ways is similar to that of MCPS. Parents, coaches and athletes are informed through free online training sessions. Athletes are removed from play if they experience concussion-like symptoms. In order to begin the return-to-play process, athletes must wait 24 hours after the initial hit before getting permission from their doctor. All concussions sustained while playing in one of Norwalk’s recreational leagues must be recorded and submitted to Norwalk’s parks and & recreational facilities office.

“There is this misconception that athletes fake concussions in order to get out of practice but it’s just not true,” Snedaker said. “With all of the new lawsuits arising… that’s the push we need in our society right now.”

As for the future of concussions, many- like Snedaker- believe it is all about raising awareness, increasing education and eliminating the misconceptions that have been existent for years. The NFL’s full admittance of the danger of repetitive head injuries is a major step towards ushering in a new era of concussion management.

Local Parent Fights Up-Hill Battle Against Concussion Status Quo

 

Bethesda, MD resident Tom Hearn does not have a medical background. He didn’t attend medical school, he was not a chemistry or biology major and he isn’t exceptionally interested science. However, Hearn is better versed on concussions and their impact on the human brain than most in the Washington, D.C. area. Armed with an arsenal of knowledge gleaned from hours of Google searches and historical research, Hearn has set out to change Montgomery County, Maryland’s perception of what it really means to sustain a concussion, and how simple changes within the county’s athletic standards could decrease concussions and minimize their impact on student’s academic endeavors.

Hearn’s original foray in to the world of concussions began four and half years ago, when his son was a sophomore at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. When his son sustained a concussion in the middle of the season, Hearn was interested in the way Whitman’s football coaches approached the injury.

“It certainly could have been handled better,” Hearn said. “Six weeks after the injury when I went in to speak with [my son’s] coaches, I left the conversation feeling like his coaches were really clueless about the underlying risk of his injury.”

When his son’s recovery turned out to be a “false recovery,” Hearn made the decision to further explore the overall attitudes and training procedures of coaches throughout Montgomery County.

“I spoke to the head of Montgomery County Public Schools, William Beattie, about having trainers on the sidelines during games,” Hearn said. “Beattie was pretty convinced that we didn’t need them… that parents could get students to their own personal doctors if they were injured, which is such an outdated view.”

Dubious after his meeting with Beattie, Hearn set about attempting to create changes within the county on his own. He began attending the Board of Education’s monthly meetings, where he would continually speak during each meeting’s comment period. He also began attending meetings that discussed budget operations, where he would lobby for the allotment of some funds for athletic changes. While people listened, he was still met with skepticism.

“From the beginning I found this early sense of resistance and inertia and I realized the status quo had been set,” Hearn said. “[But] high school athletics are an important part of the community; it is an activity removed from academics but injury can cause issues with participation in the core activity of academic education.”

Montgomery County Public School athletes are all required to undergo baseline concussion testing, a test taken via computer at the beginning of every season to set a base for each athlete’s brain functioning. The test is meant to help coaches and parents assess whether or not an athlete has sustained a concussion.

While Hearn approves of baseline concussion testing, he thinks more in-depth tests need to be completed to assess the seriousness of the impacts of repetitive hits during football.

Ideally, Hearn would like to see the use of more FMRI testing in high school football players. MRI trackers are inserted in to the helmets of players and these trackers measure the amount of hits each player undergoes while tracking brain functioning.

“It’s not just about the single big hit people see that results in the concussion. It’s more about the all of the little hits that occur- RBT- repetitive brain trauma,” Hearn said.

During Hearn’s advocacy, he went in to pay a visit to Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin. Goodwin has been a supporter of Hearn during his time advocating for more specific recommendations and procedures to be put in to place.

“He [Goodwin] has been very receptive and supportive,” Hearn said. “He also commented that there has been a much lower turnout for football in the past few years.”

While not on an outright quest to eliminate football from public school athletics, Hearn still has much concern for the game and the way it impacts young players, all of whom are still mentally developing. He also worries about the enormous influence the NFL has on young boys in different communities.

“There is a fundamental question of whether schools should be organizing and supporting a repetitive brain trauma activity,” Hearn said. “But [The NFL] is an industry that has determined that a huge part of its revenue depends on young kids continuing to play football.”

While Hearn still continues to advocate towards increased policies and procedures regarding concussion awareness and handling, he has not been as active since his son began attending to college in 2014. However, he does continue to stay informed of what is happening regarding policies in the county, and remains up-to-date on concussion related news. He is hopeful that as movies such as Concussion gain attention and the NFL continues to admit, albeit slowly, that there is a link between football and brain injury, concussion policies and procedures will be taken more seriously and people will stop to consider to effects of games such as football on the brains of developing kids.

Hearn sums it up succinctly in seven words:

“These are people’s lives we’re talking about.”

Former AU Student-Athletes Share Keys to Career Success

The AU Athletics Department hosted an alumni panel for student-athletes Feb. 1 from 7pm to 9pm in AU’s Mary Graydon Center. Former student-athletes from a variety of sports were invited back to speak with current AU student-athletes about how to find career success upon graduation.

Students from numerous AU athletic teams attended the panel, including participants of men’s and women’s socceIMG_1134r, women’s basketball, swimming and diving, wrestling, lacrosse and cross country. Six AU alumnae spoke, all of whom participated on an AU athletic team and currently hold a job in the D.C. area.

Members of the panel included Tatiana Bertolo, Andrew BonSalle, Warren Flood, Jina Komia, Laura Miller and Michelle Risinger. Each panelist provided students with networking advice and discussed how they ascended to their current employment positions.

“The best networkers are the ones that think of networking as a transaction; the more you put in, the more you get out,” said Miller, a 2004 graduate of AU who was a member of the women’s field hockey team. “It is important to build your network [of contacts] as big and broad as possible.”

Miller, along with Risinger, a former AU swimmer, both currently work for the US Government. Miller served three and a half years in the Peace Corps in Panama and is now the Division Director of training at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, overseeing a team that teaches foreign affairs life skills and personal security courses. Risinger began her career with the Red Cross, where she spent a year working and living in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Risinger is presently a Senior Innovations Officer at Pact, specializing in international development.

“D.C. is the networking capital of the world, it really is an environment that enables networking,” Risinger told students. “People instinctively network and take seriously the concept of paying it forward.”

Both Miller and Risinger have spent much of their careers abroad, and stressed the importance of travel in their personal and career development.

“Go see the world,” Risinger said. “The stories and experiences you will have abroad will shape you in to better and stronger people.”

While most members of the panel have held different jobs for shorter spurts of time, BonSalle, a former AU basketball player and graduate of 1988, has spent the past 23 years working at Fannie Mae as the company’s Executive Vice President of Single-Family Business. He discussed the keys to succeeding in a career directly following graduation.

“You have to think of your first job out as an extension of the learning experience you had in college,” BonSalle said. “You have to look at the first job as if the company you are working for is paying you to learn.”

BonSalle also told student-athletes to use their athletic backgrounds to their advantage when networking and searching for jobs.

“Have the confidence of a student-athlete,” he said “Sports helps you stand out so you need to carry that with you, how you understand how to handle failure and deal with pressure situations.”

Following BonSalle, Komla was the second oldest member of the panel, having graduated from AU in 2003. Komla, who went on to earn a Master’s in project management from the University of Maryland, emphasized that although students should not be afraid to try different jobs in multiple fields, specialization also has its benefits.

According to Komla, every student should become a ‘Subject Matter Expert,’ commonly referred to as a “SME.” Along with becoming a SME in a certain area, students should also take the skills they pick up in different jobs and apply those skills to future career opportunities.

Bertolo and Flood were to the two youngest members of the panel, having recently graduated from AU. Bertolo- a former soccer player- graduated in 2009 and works for tech start-up Arjun Solutions. Flood worked with the AU men’s basketball team before his 2013 graduation. He works as a forensic accounting and data analysis specialists.

Bertolo encouraged students to take advantage of Washington, D.C. and garner early experience through local internship opportunities.

“Internships serve as your first experiences, and these experiences give you something to talk about,” Bertolo said. “They give you that first taste of the real world and allow you to test the waters before you really have to dive in.”

Flood took a more creative approach to his advice, and used metaphors in order to give advice.

“Think of yourself as a business,” Flood said. “Every business needs to be able to build itself up and make itself look valuable… you want people to ‘buy’ in to you and accept you as a brand worth investing in.”

There was an overall positive reaction to the panel. Students were given fifteen minutes following the panel’s conclusion to introduce themselves and network with the speakers.

“I found it really informative,” said junior Meghan O’Keefe, a member of the women’s soccer team. “Even though the panelists weren’t necessarily in the field I want to get in to, they still stressed important aspects and skills I can use to help me be successful in what I want to do.”

Young Activist Has Full Plate Working Towards Minority Inclusion

Taylor Dumpson is busy woman. Only a sophomore, the American University student already holds numerous leadership positions on campus. She sits on the executive boards of AU’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Student Advocates for Native Communities (SANC). She is a council delegate for Alpha Kappa Alpha, the historically African-American sorority. Dumpson is also the president of the Intercultural Greek Council (IGC), where she advocates for culturally affiliated fraternities and sororities at AU.

Dumpson is not even halfway through her undergraduate years, yet she has established herself on campus as an activist for American’s small African-American community. However, this call to activism was awakened within Dumpson long before she arrived at AU.

Growing up in Salisbury, a large city in Southeastern Maryland that is 61 percent white and 32 percent African-American, Dumpson was raised in a very culturally conscious family.

“My parents have always been very in to black history and taught me about our cultural history from when I was five,” said Dumpson, a political science major. “They started teaching me black history facts; slavery, civil rights, they taught me about it all.”

When Dumpson arrived at AU in the fall of 2014, her knowledge of and dedication to her cultural history manifested in to a passion for activism.

“At American, I found my niche by identifying with the black community,” Dumpson said. “AU isn’t very ethnically diverse so the black community here is a very tight-knit one made of people all going through the same experience of being a minority group.”

In her role as activist, Dumpson works to make students of color feel included within American’s community. As IGC president, she serves as the voice for minority students involved in Greek life. Dumpson has bi-weekly meetings with the presidents of each of the five culturally affiliated Greek organizations to develop goals. She serves as the liaison between the IGC and the Pan Hellenic Council, which represents all non-culturally affiliated AU Greek organizations.

“As IGC president, I have tried to view my responsibilities through this lens of being both a member of Greek life and being a member of the black community,” Dumpson said.

Dumpson will expand on her leadership responsibilities when she will serve as an Alternative Break Leader next month. The Alternative Break Program allows students to travel while focusing on social justice issues. Dumpson will be leading students on a weekend trip to Baltimore, the sight of recent race-related riots.

“My topic is systemic racism and oppression in Baltimore, so I’ve planned this trip as an opportunity for students to meet with Baltimore community partners, volunteer and perform community service and meet with students and young professionals in the Baltimore area,” said Dumpson, who developed her break program from scratch.

Overall, Dumpson is happy with her work on AU’s campus, but realizes more work can be done.

“I think I’ve made a difference because I’m an outgoing person,” Dumpson said. “I still have this goal of making students of color feel like they have an inclusive place within the AU community.”