“Those tragic deaths bought concussion to the forefront,” Huttenhoff said.
Beginning this school year, the Florida High School Athletics Association, which governs high school sports athletic programs statewide, will require programs to educate officials, administrators, students and parents about concussion and have parents and students sign the liability waivers before practice even begins.
Further, when a player is seen or reported to have taken a potentially harmful jolt to the head, the athlete must be assessed immediately. In cases of concussion, the athlete must be cleared by a physician before returning to play.
Cheryl Golden, Miami-Dade Schools’ director of athletics, said parents and students have to trust the trainers and doctors. Every high school in Miami-Dade and Broward employs certified trainers qualified to access head injuries. Their mantra: if in doubt, pull the athlete out.
“The scariest part of a brain injury is you can’t see it. Moms and dads see broken bones, bad bruises and sprained ankles but sometimes they don’t want to admit there’s a head injury. They have to leave that up to the trainers and then give their children time to heal,’’ Golden said.
Dr. Kester Nedd, director of neurological rehabilitation at UHealth Sports Medicine, said every head injury is different because every hit and every athlete is unique. Some can take four to five days to heal, others may take months.
Joe Kirby Jr. of Sagemont was back on the court within five weeks and with no sign of injury.
“That is why we have rules set up. If the athlete is symptomatic and goes back before he is ready, the damage the next time will be worse. There is no doubt of that,’’ Nedd said.
Miami-Dade and Broward schools, public and private, began making changes before the concussion law took effect.
Miami-Dade schools began training coaches, trainers, school administrators, parents and students last year and Broward schools started in May. More than 3,000 adults have so far been trained, including dozens of volunteers from the American Youth Football League.
Additionally, schools are now requiring student athletes to take a cognitive brain function test, called Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), before sports season. The test establishes a baseline of an athlete’s cognitive skills, which can be measured against after an injury.
Glenn Grant, 16, a lacrosse player at Coral Reef Senior High School who got a concussion during a game in March, was one of the first to take the ImPACT.
“At first I couldn’t put sentences together. Then I had weeks when it was hard to concentrate. I was moody and my emotions were on edge. I had to work harder to get good grades,” Glenn said.
The computerized test uses colors, shapes, words, numbers and sentences to measure cognitive brain function. After a concussion, the test gets administered again to help access the injury immediately and then later to help decide if a player is ready to return to the game.
Huttenhoff said all of Broward’s nearly 15,000 student athletes will be taught concussion awareness and be ImPACT-tested before sports seasons starts.
“Everyone, even golfers, will get the training and the testing. We’ve got videos the kids will see, posters at all the schools, we’re doing all we can,” Huttenhoff said.
Golden said all of Miami-Dade’s 15,000 student athletes will get concussion training but only those in full contact sports will be ImPACT tested.
Nedd, who is Glenn’s doctor at UM’s sports medicine center, said the lacrosse player is close to a full recovery. In fact, the teen recently took a 70-mile backpacking hike in New Mexico.
He’ll get another ImPACT test before school starts Aug. 20.
“It’s great to have the test. In the past when players got hit and acted funny everyone thought it was a joke. Now we understand how the brain works, gets hurt and heals. We’re enlightened,” Glenn said.