Taking Concussions Seriously

The Milford school system is considering a tough new policy on concussions, which could sideline student athletes who sustain the head injuries for up to a year.

Milford school leaders are considering a tough new policy on concussions that would bench student athletes for up to a year if they experience a series of mild concussions, or a single severe concussion.

The effort is made to comply with a new state law, which requires school systems in Massachusetts to adopt a policy on identifying and responding to student athlete concussions by March 1.

No policy is now in effect, said Superintendent Robert Tremblay, after the School Committee discussed the issue Thursday.

Emerging research on concussions has raised additional concern about the cumulative impact of a head injury that can have debilitating effects over time. Although contact sports, such as football, are the most common source of injury, the Milford policy would cover all athletics.

The first draft at a policy — recommended by a 10-member committee including athletic trainers, nurses, doctors and counselors — outlined steps for responding to a first concussion, including treatment and contacting parents. If an athlete sustained a second concussion that year, they would be sidelined from sports for the rest of the calendar year, unless a licensed neurologist cleared them for play.

The issue of whether parents should have to consult with a neurologist, rather than simply a physician, led to debate among School Committee members about whether the requirement for a specialist was too restrictive. The debate prompted Milford pediatrician Dr. Felix Perriello, one of the committee members, to disclose that he felt the initial draft wasn't strong enough.

"It doesn't go far enough," he said. "Our job is to protect student athletes from injury, but also neurological [damage] that may happen over the next decades."

Perriello advocated for a policy that would sideline athletes based on the number and severity of concussions. His recommendation: student athletes will be prevented from participating in any sport for the rest of the calendar year if they have three minor concussions, two moderate concussions or one severe concussion at any point during a season. Physicians use a specific scale to determine the severity of concussions, he explained.

"What we don't want is people getting to be 50 years old and having headaches and difficulty sleeping" and other problems associated with concussions, he said.

Committee members agreed to cast aside the initial recommendation, and move ahead on the more restrictive policy suggested by Perriello. The policy will come back before the committee this month for a second reading, further discussion, and a vote.

Several committee members said their greatest concern is students trying to hide injuries, for fear of being benched for the rest of the year. "Students are smart," said . "I know 11-year-olds who, if their head hurts after a game, will not say anything."

Cappuccino February 03, 2012 at 02:36 PM
I suffered a concussion 2 years ago & now I know the lasting impact of such an injury. Students can hide some effects from a doctor or even from a neurologist if they want to. I still have difficulties finding words to express myself when speaking. I would reccomend therapy: speech, motor, etc.This may sound extreme until you go through the effects of a concussion. Kids being kids surely won't want to be sidelined. Adults need to protect them.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) February 03, 2012 at 02:48 PM
These things were not taken as seriously when I was a kid, and now the research has shown that the impacts are cumulative, and can be debilitating. The story contains a link to the New York Times, which has numerous articles about concussions in the NFL and in high school athletics.
Erin Waldron February 03, 2012 at 04:40 PM
My son suffered a head injury when he was twelve years old which required surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain. This injury was from a baseball. My son was cleared for sports a year later, by his neurosurgeon, and continued to play football and baseball. When my son reached high school he played football and sustained a couple of concussions and sat out for a game or two. I feel the coaches put pressure on these kids to get back out there and play ball. Today, my son has trouble with his memory, short and long term. As a parent, and nurse, I am angry with myself and the 'trainer' at the school; I should have put my foot down harder!! It was a huge battle with my son when he sustained a concussion to keep him off the field. "Mom, all I want to do is play ball. I fine, I promise."
Mary MacDonald (Editor) February 03, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Thank you for sharing that, Erin, and I'm sorry about your son. The School Committee seemed genuinely concerned that a tough policy may encourage kids to hide their injuries, because they know they will be out for a year.
Joe Kane February 03, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I have watched Milford High School football for a lot of years. I have had two boys go through the system as well as many kids that I coached in youth football programs. I have observed a Quarterback take a vicious hit to the head during a pre-season scrimmage, then ask for a timeout because he couldn't think straight, walk over to the head coach and throw up on his shoes. The Coach said "You're alright, get back in there!" In shock and dismay, I called the boy's father over to tell him what I saw and heard, and he said, "Don't worry, it'll toughen him up!" That episode was a display of ignorance on behalf of both the Coach and the Parent. A second episode involved a star running back on the most recent Super Bowl teams who took a big helmet to helmet hit and he went down on the opposite sideline. I watched him struggle to get to his feet, walked a few steps and then threw up 3 times in front of the referee. The referee had to walk him over to the Milford sideline to get him out of the game. Two plays later, the head coach was putting him back in the game. I them spoke to the boys parent on the sideline who was standing a few feet away, and told him that I believed that his son had a concussion. He just shrugged his shoulders and said "He looks fine to me!" More ignorance! I was able to witness these because I was walking the sidelines taking pictures. ( I will continue the rest of the story in another post)
Joe Kane February 03, 2012 at 06:20 PM
My own son Tom took a vicious hit in a big game vs Leominster (I was up in the stands this time). As he wobbled to his feet, no coach or trainer was rushing to his aid. I was screeming from the back row to "Get Him Out of There!" He stayed in the game for another play, then the head coach took a timeout. During the timeout I learned later that the coach asked my son if he was OK to kick a field goal. My son was in a fog and just blurted out "Sure!" He later told me that he barely knew what he was doing when he kicked the winning field goal. Everyone was wrapped up in winning the game. My wife and I took him to the Emergency Room after the game to have him evaluated. They could only conclude that he had taken a hard hit and was a "little dizzy". ( I will continue the rest of the story in another post)
Joe Kane February 03, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Then fast forward to when my son Brett was playing his junior year against Marlborough, only this time, Tom Cullen was now the Milford Head Coach. He went to make a tackle and ended up with a helmet to helmet hit right in front of me on the Marlborough sideline right in front of me. He struggled to get up and I told him to stay down. When I looked up, the Milford trainer was already sprinting over from the other sideline. He slowly got Brett up and walked him across the field. By the time I got over to the bench, the trainer had already finished his evaluation and said that he thought he has sustained a concussion. Having suffered four of them myself, I asked Brett a couple of questions about how he felt. From that I was convinced he had a concussion. A minute later, Tom Cullen came over to ask how he was doing. The trainer and I both said that we felt he had a concussion. Tom did not hesitate one moment. He leaned forward and kissed Brett on the forehead and said "Your done Brett! You sit still and we will take it from here. You've already done enough." These were the perfect words to say to the player because this took the pressure that he felt to get back into the game in order to support his teammates. And my respect for Tom Cullen has grown even more because of that instance. The bottom line is that Parents ultimately need to take responsibility for this kids and they cannot be frightened away from demanding attention by a coach who's priority is to win
Mary MacDonald (Editor) February 03, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Hopefully parents become educated about the risks of concussions and advise their School Committee members. I think some parents assume that because this isn't college, this isn't professional, the hits aren't as bad.
MrMilford February 03, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I empathize greatly with the parents, and I applaud those of you strong enough to put your foot down. You don't want "Mom, I'm fine, I promise." to be the last words your child says to you. With all topics balance, common sense are required, and when it comes to the child's health and safety, the parent/guardian has the last word/final say..period. Don't hesitate. You only need to be wrong once to endure a tragedy.
Ed February 23, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Since I worked hard to get the law passed you can assume I am a true fan of tougher policies. However, placing a number of months to sit after a concussion is wrong. With pre-season baseline testing and effective monitoring of the athlete after the concussion will support the proper return to activity, practice and play.


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