Student Sports Related Head Injuries in Massachusetts: The Trend

DANVERS, MA: Hamilton-Wenham sophomore catcher Phil Durgin waits on deck in Pete Frates Memorial game against St. John’s Prep that took place on May 1st, 2016.. (Photo/ Larry Saggese)

It was the winter of 2006, a typical Tuesday night at practice with my freshman basketball team at Danvers High School.

This session ended differently. Rather than wrapping up with our usual conditioning routine, we organized a scrimmage against the junior varsity team, which consisted of sophomores and juniors. Now by no means in my 5’9” frame am I a highly skilled or intimidating basketball player, but for some reason, on our first possession, I decided to channel my inner Michael Jordan and courageously drove to the basket to what I had hoped would be an uncontested lay-up. Instead of smoothly converting, I took simultaneous bumps to my head and side, launching me on my back and resulting in a brain rattling head clap against the rubber floor.

Stars, black and white stars. That is all that I could see before I gained my bearings to find myself staring at the field house ceiling with teammates and coaches hovering over my line of sight. After getting assistance to my feet and gathering myself after a violent head rush, I stumbled over the the bench where I proceeded to sip on countless cups of water as the scrimmage came to an end.

After this incident, I had lost my desire to play basketball. I narrowed my focus to both golf and baseball and my main sports for the rest of my high school career. I’m not sure if it was this accident in particular that officially turned me off to the game, but it definitely contributed.

At the time, I paid no attention to the severity of what these sensitive head injuries can have down the line.

In the last decade, concussions and head injuries have become a hot topic of conversation from a youth to professional level. Highlighted by the concussion suit that former National Football League players filed against the league, which resulted in a $765 million settlement in favor of the players, numerous states and athletic associations have made strides towards adjusting their concussion based protocol, training and treatment for all coaches, athletes and faculty members.

According to Mass.gov, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health developed regulations, which were promoted in 2011, directed to all public middle and high schools as well as any other schools with extracurricular sports for grades 6–12 who are subject to the rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) in an effort to better govern prevention and manage sports-related head injuries.

HAMILTON, MA, Junior Cam Peach delivers a pitch during an off season captains practice for the Hamilton-Wenham Generals. (Photo/ Larry Saggese)

In a 2013 article published in the Boston Globe, Massachusetts schools reported over 4,400 of the sports-related injuries, over 1000 more from the previous year report. “There was no protocol,” says Hamilton Wenham head baseball coach and long time assistant varsity football coach Reggie Maidment. “Coaches had to use their discretion, the good coaches knew when to pull a player and the bad ones didn’t.”

Maidment, a middle school physical educator in the Medford school system, believes that a rise in reported concussions could stem from a raised awareness and proper diagnosis. “With the new sideline protocol and documenting process that the trainers have to follow, every ding or big hit is looked at. It’s a simple numbers game, the more you know the easier they are to diagnose, and that’s a good thing.”

To combat said spike, Massachusetts Regulation 105 CMR 201.000: Head Injuries and Concussions in Extracurricular Athletic Activities sought to improve the current state of sports related head injuries with guidelines, standards and training to properly educate and monitor all of those involved, effective as of August 1st, 2014.

In a data brief titled Sports Related Concussions among Massachusetts Youth, published in the summer of 2016 by the Mass. Public Health’s Survey Program Office of Data Management and Outcome Assessments, results indicated that concussions and other head injuries are on the decline. From 2011–2015, the percent of MA student athletes who reported symptoms of a concussion over a 12 month period decreased from 21.3% to 14% among high school athletes and from 20.8% to 19.3% among middle school athletes.

Details of Regulation 105 are thorough and specific, leaving no student, coach, administrator or parent uninformed. “What this protocol does is protect the players from themselves,” said Maidment. “By learning the new system players are more ready to diagnose themselves. Any trip to the trainer for head related issues is at least a week off.”

As part of the new regulations, both head, assistant and volunteer coaches alike must take an annual concussion training course where they receive a specific concussion protocol certification at the sessions end.

Former Lynn English junior varsity baseball coach and middle school physical educator Nick Roberts is impressed with the state’s progress. “It’s great to see important people being proactive about such a dangerous issue,” said Roberts. “The protocol in place now not only informs the students and families, but it helps to qualifies us as coaches to be prepared in terms of prevention, awareness and treatment.”

Through promotion such as the MIAA’s Concussion Awareness Week, non-profit organizations like the ThinkTaylor Foundation are onboard with this new rise in awareness. These numerous types of partnerships will contribute the MIAA and Department of Public Health’s efforts to continue the recent progress in the battle against student sports related head injuries.

As a coach now myself, I see the other end of the spectrum. I understand that as a player there is stress to stay on the field, but I need to be able to quickly diagnose whether or not a player is capable of continuing on the fly. For summer ball, we don’t have medical staff readily present. Last year, one of my 17-year-old baseball players took a fastball to the side of his helmet, deadening the ball upon impact. He proceeded to toss his bat and run down to first as I follow. Now, circumstantially, this was an easy call for me. It was late in the game and I had a couple of players on the bench to replace him. He tried to claim that he was able to run the bases but I refused if not for precautionary purposes only. I believe that the younger these athletes understand why coaches may be over caution with head injuries the better they are at being able to properly protect themselves.

The Mass.gov Health and Humane online resource provides information seekers with numerous outlets of answers. From information for students, parents, coaches and medical providers, to linked source documents and direction to the injury prevention and control program, this is the student sports related head injury information hub for Massachusetts residents to source. If you rate progress in data, then look no further than these most recent statistics to determine the trend of student sports related head injuries.

If you have any questions or seek to learn more in regards to student sports related head injuries in Massachusetts, please direct yourself to the links below.

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