“From the NFL all the way down to the youngest kids that might be putting a helmet on for the first time, everyone is very much more aware of concussion signs and symptoms and erring on the side of caution if there is a question,” Jackson High School coach Joel Vincent said. “I think the whole sport of football is much more conscientious and on guard in that respect than it was 18 years ago, or even when I played 30 years ago.”
While head injuries remain part of the game, coaches and medical staffs are much better equipped to deal with those injuries than they were in 1997.
“The biggest thing, I think, is the return-to-play protocols that everyone is using now,” said Brenda Black, who is in her 19th season as the head trainer at Jackson High School. “Once the symptoms are gone, you have to go through a five- or six-day progression before you can play again. Each day you get a little bit more activity, and as long as none of the symptoms come back, then the next day you can pick it up and the next day you can pick it up until you have a regular practice.”
Gone are the days when an athlete could “get his bell rung” and continue to play. Players with concussion symptoms must be removed from the game. If it's determined the player has a concussion, he must pass a series of concussion tests, be cleared by a doctor, and participate in a full-contact practice before playing in another game. Results of the concussion tests must be tracked and dated by the coaching staff.
Part of the concussion protocol depends on players being honest about their symptoms — and coaches and trainers being on the lookout for those who aren't.
“It's a traumatic brain injury, and (the players) have to see it that way,” Black said.
Before the current protocol was in place, it wasn't uncommon for players such as The Herald's 1997 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year, Corey Gunnerson, to play when they shouldn't have.
“I played through minor concussions and nobody thought much of them, I don't think,” the former Everett linebacker and fullback said. “You might be out (of action) until your head stopped hurting, so you might be out a couple of days. Now, there is a whole list of things that they do and I think it's needed.
“I got knocked out several times,” Gunnerson added. “There's a couple days of my life that I don't remember because of it, so I think that the protocol needs to be there and there needs to be tracking of it from the middle school levels through (high school) because you don't know how many times a kid has got their bell rung and what the long-term effects are going to be.”
The protocol requires trainers and coaching staffs to be on the lookout for players with symptoms of a concussion, but keeps coaches from having to make decisions that are best made by a doctor.
“We preseason test (our players) with a cognitive test,” Edmonds-Woodway head coach John Gradwohl said. “If during any practice or game they get their bell rung, there's a whole system of tests they have to go through before they're put back on the field. What I like about it is it's not the coaches' decision. Once it happens, it's out of my hands.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
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