Following a presentation last week on the dangers of concussions, and suggestions on what the school can do in the future to protect Riverhead High School's athletes, the school district will be forming a 'concussion committee' to develop a comprehensive concussion policy, hopefully by the beginning of next school year.
The push to develop a fuller strategy to combat concussions comes in the wake of additional attention to and scrutiny regarding concussions, from the professional level through college all the way down to youth sports.
According to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the National Federation of State High Schools changed its policy on concussions, which now states that players who sustain them can only return to the field after they are cleared by an "appropriate health care professional." New York State guidelines define the health care professional as the school medical officer; in Riverhead's case, Dr. Rogelio Lao.
But how exactly how the school decides to go about preventing concussions has yet to be seen. Athletic Director Bill Groth's presentation, which was conducted with the help of district Athletic Trainer Candice Maglione and Dr. John Scalamandre of Maximum Performance Physical Therapy, was one option the school district can take moving forward.
"We have to do a lot of research in finding the best way to provide what the kids need," said Superintendent Nancy Carney. "We will gather input from coaches, nurses - this isn't that something that happens overnight."
Among the suggestions made at last week's presentation is a baseline neurocognitive test, called the imPACT test, conducted before the sports season begins, perhaps as part of a preseason physical. The test monitors athletes' reaction times using computer software which could be implemented in the school's computer labs, Scalamandre said. If an athlete were suspected of sustaining a concussion during an athletic event, the test would be conducted again.
"When you see someone have a severe concussion, their change in reaction time is actually pretty dramatic," Scalamandre said. "It's like night and day. While the athlete may not have a headache, if an athlete is still showing concussive symptoms and he or she sustains a second concussion, it can actually be deadly. It's a very serious thing."
Groth said the majority of concussions in sports are a result of athletes returning to action too early. He cited football as the sport which sustains the most concussions - 63 percent of all concussions - and stated that an athlete who sustains a concussion is four to six more times likely to sustain a second than an athlete who never has.
To provide an analogy, Groth compared the brain to an egg: the skull as the shell, brain as the yolk, and matter surrounding the brain as the egg white. While someone can shake an egg, mixing up the yolk and egg white, without breaking the shell, brains too can shift around inside the skull in a manner far beyond healthy, without any damage to the skull.
Moving forward, Carney said she would like to have the concussion committee in place by the end of next week to begin considering other options, and a policy in place by the fall of this year.