Columbia: concussion in high school sports saw dramatic drop in last year

Rhett Bomar with football


Capital News Service

05/31/2014 — COLLEGE PARK, MD. – Howard County Public Schools saw a 19 percent drop last school year in reported sports-related concussions, after numbers steadily rose for several years.

According to six years of data supplied by the school system, the 2012-’13 athletic season showed a significant drop in concussion numbers, for a total of 211 recorded for high school sports. That number is down by 50 from  2011-’12, when county athletic trainers recorded 261 concussions throughout the year.

About 10,000 to 13,000 athletes play sports in Howard County high schools each year, said Athletic Director John Davis.

Football took the top spot in the county’s concussion numbers–accounting for 294, or 26 percent of all reported concussions–during those six years. Reports of football concussions dipped from 55 to 45 from the 2011-’12 season to the 2012-’13 season, the data showed.

Wrestling accounted for the next highest percentage of concussions, at 13 percent of the reported total for the six years. It was followed by boys’ lacrosse (at 10 percent for the six years); girls soccer and cheerleading (each at 8 percent); and girls’ lacrosse (at 7 percent).

Davis said various factors may have played into last year’s overall decrease in concussions — including limits placed in fall 2012 on full contact practices in football.

He said allowing only two days of full contact practices a week in football, as well as limiting fully padded practices to a few times a week, are some measures the county put in place to try to reduce concussions.

However, Davis said he and athletic staff are unsure if the overall drop in concussions is a trend or an outlier.

“We’re still waiting to see if that [drop in concussions] was an aberration,” he said.

The data showed some other interesting trends.

  • Concussions made up about 5 percent of the injuries reported in the county public schools between 2007-08 and 2012-13, with 1,134 reported during the six-year period.
  • Sprains and strains were the most common injuries reported for the six-year period, with 8,860 reported, or 37 percent of the total.

The data also showed that reported concussions rose nearly every year before 2012-’13. [The 2009-’10 year was the exception, when they dropped by 3.] Davis said the early increase in concussion reports likely came from more concussion knowledge.

“I think it’s the awareness,” he said. “It went way up after we started imPACT testing.”

The Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test is a baseline test administered to athletes in preseason and then again after athletes are suspected of sustaining concussions. It can help to diagnose a concussion and determine when an athlete safely can return to play. Howard County started imPACT testing in 2007, Davis said.

Andrew McIntyre, assistant football coach at Reservoir High School in Howard County, said he thinks current rules and regulations are doing a good job of curbing concussions.

He said awareness needs to start from the top down; high-impact hits delivered by NFL players shouldn’t be celebrated on highlight reels.

McIntyre said if the pros start using safer tackling techniques, those will trickle down to lower levels of football, all the way to Pee Wee football. “Little kids need to learn proper tackling,” he said.

McIntyre said critics of teaching safer techniques think that will “take the football out of football.” But, he said, “You can still have football without the helmet-to-helmet hits and kill shots … that cause more damage than we know.”

McIntyre is also the head coach for Reservoir’s wrestling team. In Howard County, wrestling accounted for 13 percent of concussions during the six years.

McIntyre said concussions in wrestling are “inevitable,” unfortunately. “You can’t have equipment [like in football or lacrosse]; it makes the sport dangerous,” he said.

McIntyre said as in football, teaching correct techniques is important to keeping wrestlers safe. “Proper grappling, grabbing and holds,” he said.

As for some of the other high-concussion sports: Davis said cheerleading, which accounted for 8 percent of concussions in the county for the six-year period, is evaluated periodically to see what stunts are allowed and how high pyramids can be. He said limitations on heights and stunts are the key to preventing concussions in that sport.

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