HENRY SHULDINER, SPORTS EDITOR:
This year, for the first time ever, Wilson is administering “concussion pretests” for all athletes, a step in the right direction toward protecting athletes from potentially dangerous consequences. A concussion, a brain injury that results in temporary disruption of normal brain function, occurs when the brain is violently rocked back and forth or twisted inside the skull, typically from a blow to the head or body. Jamilla Watson, the athletic trainer for Wilson and head athletic trainer for DCPS, was in charge of the concussion pretests this year.
To conduct the pretests, Wilson uses ImPACT concussion software that gives a baseline for each athlete, which can be used for comparison if a concussion is suffered during the season. “Basically, the ImPACT test provides a preseason physical of the brain,” Watson stated. “The test tracks an individual’s memory, reaction time, speed, and concentration.” In essence, the test creates a baseline for each athlete’s brain, and if there is a possibility of a head injury, the data from the tests can be used for diagnosis.
Other schools throughout the city, region and nation have also started to conduct these pretests with similar, if not the same, software. The tests are administered prior to every season. “Currently, we are testing the high risk athletes first, like football, soccer, [and] cheerleading,” Watson reported. However, Wilson plans to test all athletes participating in a DCIAA sanctioned sport, high-risk or not. Obviously the priority has to go to the athletes participating in contact sports because they are more vulnerable to head injury.
Awareness of concussions and other head injuries or diseases has benefited from burgeoning research since the death of longtime NFL star, Junior Seau. Seau, who retired from the league in 2009 after a long, successful career, committed suicide in 2012. After his death, researchers concluded that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of chronic brain damage. Many other reports have come out since with very similar storylines.
Anyone with ties to sports should be encouraging and supporting concussion research. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, two ESPN reporters who are writing a book on brain injuries, are also making a short film titled League of Denial. The film is an investigation of what the NFL knew about brain injuries, which appear to have been troubling players since the League started but have become more common and sometimes severe of late. All the coverage of head and brain injuries in professional football and other sports has made high school and collegiate level athletes, parents, coaches, and athletic administrations frantic to solve and prevent the problem.
On Wilson’s website, there is a link to information about concussions, labeled “A Parent’s Guide to Concussion”. On the door to Ms. Watson’s office and in the locker room, there are posters about how to prevent concussions. The implementation of the concussion pretests is just an addition to some of the good doings of the Wilson Athletic Staff and DCPS Department of Athletics’ Athletic Health Care Services. Both of the parties are committed to keeping their athletes safe and healthy while still letting them play the sports they love.
As appeared in the August 30 issue of The Beacon