Lack of trainers impedes DCPS concussion policy

Ava Nicely

When senior Gabby Bagnoli tripped and hit her head on the ground during a soccer game in early November, she was immediately removed from the game and evaluated by the athletic trainer per the DCIAA Concussion and Head Injury Policy. 

 “They asked me a bunch of questions. Some of them were simple things, like my name and about the day, but they were mostly about how I was feeling and how I felt before I fell,” Bagnoli explained. When she took a while to answer these questions and reported a small headache, the athletic trainer recommended that she drink water, close her eyes, and avoid talking. However, Bagnoli was never actually diagnosed with a concussion because her symptoms were not severe enough for her to be referred to a physician.

Ideally, after an athlete sustains a head injury, they should be tested with Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), which the DCPS Athletic Health Care Services implemented as a tool to determine when it is safe for an athlete to return to play. The goal is to obtain baseline tests at the beginning of the season for every athlete that can serve as a standard of comparison for their brain functioning in the event that they sustain a head injury and are re-tested. 

Though only student-athletes participating in high-contact sports, such as football, soccer, and basketball, are required to do ImPACT testing at the beginning of the season, DCIAA requires any student who wants to play a sport to sign the consent forms for ImPACT testing.

Although the athletic department strives to obtain a baseline test biannually for every athlete participating in high-contact sports, this is often not feasible because of the sheer number of student-athletes at Wilson and the school’s capacity to administer testing. “We sometimes aren’t successful in trying to coordinate team practice schedules with computer lab times with athletic trainer availability. It sometimes is a little difficult, but we try,” athletic trainer Jamila Watson explained. With only one athletic trainer, a limited number of computers, and the difficulty of getting every student to come in for testing when they are supposed to, baselines cannot be achieved for every student, especially when they join the season late.

ImPACT testing is only a tool that DCIAA can use to assess head injuries and is “not the end-all be-all because you could still have symptoms that would disqualify you from participation,” Watson said. More often, athletes are evaluated based on their symptoms to determine whether they should be referred for further medical evaluation, and a five day progressive return to play is used, which involves athletes gradually returning to their sport and keeping an eye out for symptoms.

Similar to Bagnoli, senior Shaw Honarkar did not undergo ImPACT testing after his head was elbowed in a soccer game last year, but he had to take a break from the season after being evaluated off the field. “They decided I had a concussion since I didn’t remember much of what happened at all during the game, but it was never officially proven that I had a concussion,” he said. 

During a crucial part of the season, Honarkar was unable to play because of the five-day protocol that involved daily check-ins with the athletic trainer. He wishes that a test like ImPACT could have been used to show that his brain functioning had returned to his baseline level. “It would’ve been great if there was an official test to confirm the head injury [had healed] because I could’ve been cleared to play in the state finals,” he said.