Concussion laws force schools to watch athletes

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By Erin Smith
Entirely East Lansing staff writer

Christina Rawetzki vaguely remembers her first concussion. She was playing high school rugby when two girls tackled her improperly, coming at her from both sides, causing her to fall head first.

She said she wasn’t aware she had a concussion until about an hour or two after she hit her head.

Without legislation regarding a mandatory check for concussions in youth sports, many players wouldn’t know if they had a concussion and would endanger themselves and others by playing with a concussion.

Many plays, just like Rawetzki’s, can cause a blow to the head, according to Randy Pearson, the senior associate residency director of the Sparrow MSU Family Medicine System and MSU football team physician. Symptoms can range from headaches and blurred vision to insomnia.

State adopted new law in October

House Bill 5697 was passed in October in Michigan and states coaches, volunteers and any employee involved in youth sports must enroll in a youth concussion awareness program. Coaches also are required to sideline any player who might have a concussion, and the player is not allowed to return without clearance from a medical professional.

Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Center, a sponsor of the bill, said he supported the bill because he used to be a football and wrestling coach and has seen the results of serious concussions.

Scott Crilly, coach of Eastside Stars varsity hockey, which has players from different schools, including including East Lansing High School, said he takes concussions seriously and that his players have had them. He said concussions are prevalent in ice hockey.

From what Crilly said, it is pretty clear he has been following the law.

According to Crilly, The Michigan High School Athletic Association, or MHSAA, has a tutorial as part of an annual education effort about what to do when someone exhibits symptoms of a concussion.

Crilly said he is required to remove any player that could have a concussion and that player cannot return without written permission from a doctor. All high schools sports are also required to have a medical trainer on site, and the trainer will diagnose the injury.

Crilly said he thinks the program is great for someone who might not know how to diagnose a concussion, but since Crilly is a brain injury specialist, he has no problem differentiating between a bump on the head and a serious concussion out on the ice.

Before legislation

Julie Daukss, a former high school skier, now-turned coach, didn’t know how to diagnose a concussion she got from demonstrating a jump.

She landed wrong, tended a bloody nose for a few minutes and then Daukss skied for another hour. She didn’t go to the doctor until five hours later, when she was told she had a severe concussion.

She said there would normally be a coach there who would recognize the signs of a concussion, but she was a new coach and had not taken a course yet.

Daukss said the new law means: “If I continue to coach and they enforce that I now have to go through that training. I think it’s really important that they have that legislation to ensure people know how to treat concussions.”

Under the new laws Rawetzki would not have been allowed to keep playing if a coach or trainer thought she might have had a concussion.

Rawetzki said in rugby people can get away with just about anything, adding that she thinks concussions are prevalent in the sport.

“One girl got a really bad injury once, we couldn’t wake her up for a second,” Rawetzki said. “She got up after a few minutes, but you could tell she was really dizzy and her eyes were glazed over from the concussion.”

The path ahead

Rawetzki said rules should be put into place to stop concussions from the early stages on, and she said she thinks this legislation could help that.

“When you first start playing they should try to teach you how to tackle properly … There’s less chances of any serious injury,” Rawetzki said. “Sometimes teens in high school don’t know correct rules — that’s when injuries come into play.”

Katherine Yops, a high school basketball and soccer player who has had six concussions, said she believes there should be rules.

“Concussions can happen in a split second and there’s not really a lot you can do to prevent them,” Yops said. “My first (concussion) was a ‘bang, bang’ thing. It was a normal play that just resulted bad for me.

“One rule would be if a person is in the air avoid contacting them because you don’t know what way they’re gonna go, and you don’t know how they’re gonna land,” she said.

Hooker said his main goal with the bill was to allow youth athletes to safely play sports.

Pearson still has concerns, in spite of the concussion law.

“What I worry about is some physician will see a kid and won’t understand the subtleties and will say it’s OK to go back, and (the kid) will get another concussion,” Pearson said. “Part of the legislation needs to go toward educating physicians — the process you go through to make sure the brain is healed and you don’t let the player back until the brain is healed. A lot of doctors out there don’t know what to do with concussions.”

As for players involved in after-school sports, Yops said the new law is a step in the right direction in preventing concussions.

“(The new laws are) great,” Yops said. “It’s nice to know someone cares and (is) taking concussions seriously.”


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