Heads in the Game: Update on concussion victims
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Here are updates on youngsters and teenagers with concussions whom the Post-Gazette has been following this football season.
The Peters Township Junior Football Association embraced a policy this season intending to more closely safeguard the 212 heads of its young players.
The result surprised league officials: seven concussions.
Six of the seven caused children to miss multiple games, if not the entire season. And all but one came in children who wore newer-technology helmets, purchased by their parents, designed to prevent traumatic head injuries.
"Even though we were surprised at the number we had, it was good to know that we were in a normal range," said Rick Young, a podiatrist who became a board member and the association's concussion watchdog after seeing his son, Nick, then 9, severely affected for months by a concussion one season earlier.
Youth football concussions are sustained at a rate between 4 and 6 percent per total each season, experts estimate, and the Peters association finished at a 3.3 percentage.
Overall, more than half of its players took the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing offered them for a reduced rate through UPMC Sports Medicine. Dr. Young said that proved to be a significant aid in assessing concussions: four of the injured seven already had a baseline test. About a dozen more players underwent ImPACT during the season.
Roughly half of the Indians wore the newer helmets, and board officials are discussing potential changes for 2011, such as increasing attentiveness on fitting helmets and allowing parents a broader selection of headgear, among other things.
"We don't think there was any problem with the helmet," Dr. Young said. Sometimes, he added, "those kids get a false sense of extra security because it feels so good and because it's a 'concussion' helmet."
Helmet manufacturers as well as experts maintain that no helmet prevents concussions because it neither directly covers nor protects the brain.
West Allegheny High School, last year's 2009 WPIAL Class AAA champion, fell two playoff victories shy of playing this season in the Heinz Field finals.
It didn't help that the Indians' star player, tailback-linebacker and 2009 Post-Gazette Player of the Year Mike Caputo, saw his senior season end on opening night 2010 when he dislocated and fractured his left ankle.
Two concussions -- among 87 players -- caused separate Indians to miss a total of 2 1/2 games.
That's about the average for them, though experts estimate most scholastic football teams see a concussion rate between 7 and 10 percent in a season.
"I guess that is kind of normal," Indians coach Bob Palko said of his team's concussions. "You just need to be careful with it. Make sure the kid is comfortable with it, their parents are comfortable. ... Because everybody is so aware of [the risks] right now."
Matt Triebsch, West Allegheny's certified athletic trainer on contract through UPMC Sports Medicine, and athletic director Dave McBain, an athletic trainer for the past quarter-century, add their knowledge and presence daily around the program and all of the school's sports, Mr. Palko said. The program also fits a number of its players into the newer helmets aimed at preventing traumatic head injuries. All that, plus diligence, may help to prevent the Indians from having a higher concussion rate, the head coach added.
First Published November 29, 2010 12:00 am