BALTIMORE - Obviously the NFL is shining the spotlight on concussions. But ABC2 is working for you, focusing on the hits that hit closer to home. ABC2 Investigator Joce Sterman has a heads up on whether your kid’s school is doing enough to combat concussions.
They take the crushing hits that knock them flat and no pad, no helmet; no equipment can truly protect you. Concussions may seem like a problem that only plagues the pros, but the truth is, they're also hitting much closer to home.
Tiny high school sophomore Megan Flanagan may not be a 200-pound wide receiver. But she still knows what it’s like to get leveled. She took a massive hit in a game over the summer. She says, "She kind of charged me and I felt my head shake back a couple times."
But Megan wasn’t fine. She suffered a concussion. It was her second and it sidelined her for the entire field hockey season. Her coach, her trainer and her doctor benched her out of concern for future problems. She explains, "It's really hard because you just want to get in the game and you're just sitting there."
Flanagan is sitting out for safety's sake. But that doesn't happen with every kid. Cyrus Fisher says he fought through the pain of six concussions as a high school wrestler, simply because no one stopped him. He says, "The first big one I got I got slammed on my head and I don't remember the rest of the match. But apparently wrestled through it."
Playing hurt is an idea that alarms Dr. Kevin Crutchfield. He says, “If that's frightening, it ought to be, because it frightens me." Crutchfield, a Neurologist with LifeBridge Health knows how devastating just one hit can be to a pro’s brain. He’s on the NFL’s Concussion Board. Now he's keeping one eye on the pros and another on a high school near you. He tells ABC2, "I still witness bad things happening with concussions people turning their heads, putting kids back in games that shouldn't be put in."
Technically that’s against the rules. According to new regulations implemented at Maryland public schools this year, an athlete with concussion symptoms can't suit up again until a medical professional clears him. But how do you determine who has taken a real hit to the head? According to the state, trainers, coaches and game officials make the call on concussions.
Baltimore County State Senator Bobby Zirkin wants a more specific plan for handling head injuries in high school athletes. He says, "Right now, it's very sporadic. I think depending on where you are, it's taken more seriously in other places."
Zirkin pitched a bill asking for specific guidelines for concussion management last session but it was whistled dead. Now he’s planning a comeback in Annapolis, hoping to find middle ground that schools, parents, doctors and lawmakers can agree on. He says, "I think it's important right now that everybody understands that the scope of the problem is much larger than they thought it was a few years ago."
But it's hard to get a firm grasp on traumatic brain injuries here. Of the five school districts around Baltimore, only one - Howard County, is actually tracking concussions. Their students have racked up 439 in just 3 years. It’s an alarming number to Diane Triplett with the Brain Injury Association of Maryland. She says,
"We have to do something. We now know this. I think it becomes a liability if we don't put something in place."
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association says it has a plan in place. They’ve changed the rules and are rallying support for the cause, going to the bleachers to bring awareness. The group, which oversees public school athletics on behalf of the state, handed out 50,000 concussion magnets during a special Concussion Awareness Week in early October. Ned Sparks, Executive Director of MPSSAA says, "We truly believe the real issue is education. We think based on what our coaches have and what we've done so far, the word is getting out there."
Part of the group’s education plan is putting coaches back in the classroom. Starting this year, all 9000 of them in the state have to go through a concussion management course. It's not law, so it falls to the local districts to make sure their coaches get the credit. Ron Belinko, the Athletic Coordinator for Baltimore County Schools says, "You're not going to step foot on that field unless you take that course. It only takes 10-15 minutes but it's creating awareness of concussion symptoms and the dangers if players continue."
But can a course on concussions train coaches well enough to make these calls?
Athletic trainers could help, but you won't find them on every sideline. According to a Scripps Howard News Service investigation which looked at statistics for athletic trainer, less than half of the state's high schools have even one full time trainer. Triplett says, "We're way behind."
Some feel Maryland may not get ahead on concussions until legal action is taken. Still, the