Concussions continue to plague male and female high school athletes

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Leonard Lewis

Leonard Lewis, a former high school athlete who suffered a concussion in wrestling.

Michigan high school sports report a rising number of sports concussions, with girls sports being some of the most dangerous. Head injuries in football have always been the main issue, but now almost all sports have shown they can be a health risk to their players.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association first started tracking all concussions from both boys and girls sports in the 2015-16 season. The report includes all high schools in Michigan that are members of the association, which is located in East Lansing. John Johnson, director of broadcast properties for the association, was one who first started to keep track of these numbers.

Johnson said, “The increase in concussions in sports that are played by both genders are hard to prevent, so the schools must prepare their coaches to coach in a different way than they have.”

The association’s most recent report is from the 2016-17 school year. It showed 3,958 head injuries across all sports. By a substantial number, concussions occurred most in football. Girls basketball was second and girls soccer was third.

“In same-gender sports, such as basketball, soccer and baseball/softball, our concussion survey results have given us cause for concern, since girls are reported to have sustained concussions at a rate higher than males,” said Johnson.

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Marci Abraham, athletic trainer at East Lansing High School, frequently deals with treating concussions.

“This school year to date, the concussion count in East Lansing High School athletics is between 25-30,” Abraham said, “This number is slightly higher than I anticipated but not shocking for a school with over 1,000 students and a variety of both MHSAA sanctioned sports as well as athletic clubs.”

Abraham says that girls, in particular, tend to be more cautious about their health and may report symptoms and injuries more readily than boys.

“Females are playing more aggressively as each year passes and they become bigger, faster, and stronger, thus creating a greater force upon impact that has to be absorbed,” Abraham said, “And while they are learning how to create these forces, I do not believe they are being taught how to properly absorb these forces when they are placed upon them by another individual or object.”

Leonard Lewis, a former high school football player and wrestler, had a firsthand encounter with a serious concussion. During his freshman year at Concord High School, Lewis made it through the hard-hitting sport of football without one concussion.

However, one day during wrestling practice, Leonard suffered a blow to the head after colliding with what the school called “the cage,” where the team’s practice mats were placed. The warning signs of being dazed and constantly unaware of his surroundings didn’t seem to faze Leonard, so he never reported it to the school. However, at Leonard’s first match, he took a heavy head blow to the mat. When he got up, as his mother remembers he was in immediate confusion.

“He had the 1,000-yard stare. He just seemed to not know where he was,” said Eileen Lewis, who is also a staff member at Concord Schools, “He just didn’t seem like himself.”

Leonard Lewis’s concussion kept him out for six months. Many small things that never seemed to bother him before did. Any little interaction with lights and sounds bothered him. “I just couldn’t stay concentrated in school,” he said.

“As a parent, you are worried about what impact it might have on his future. Externally, you couldn’t really tell he had a concussion,”said Eileen Lewis, “Some people were skeptical about his condition, such as teachers who didn’t realize this affected his class work. You also wonder if he had another concussion and are fearful for the future of his health.”

Tom Hunt, athletic director at East Lansing High School, said he is all for protecting student-athletes.

“One of the worst things a student-athlete can do to his/her self is not reporting a head injury,” said Hunt. “Concussions are injuries that you have to be extra careful about, which is why the athletic department as a whole has continued to emphasize the importance of reporting all concussions to our training staff.”

Over the past couple years, the athletic association has implemented a new rule in football that has reduced the number of contact practices a team can have per week, said Hunt. He pointed out that even if a player is cleared by doctors not affiliated with the high school, it doesn’t mean the school has to take the player off concussion protocol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pushed for more ways to protect young athletes. The CDC’s “Heads Up” page states, “We must protect kids and teens by raising awareness and informing action to improve prevention, recognition, and response to a concussion and other serious brain injuries.”

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The first and most important step for high school athletes when they suffer any head injury is to report it to their trainer or family doctor.

“We discuss at various times of the years the importance to reporting any symptoms to your coach, parents, and the athletic trainer as soon as you feel them develop,” Abraham said, “While most athletes are not happy with these protocol steps, they are usually looking to continue their participation, and after some discussion they come to terms with why we have to take the measures we do.”

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