Wichita schools monitor students’ athletic injuries

A lot of children get hurt every year playing games.

Concussions are among the worst injuries, and they are more numerous than most people realize, researchers say.

The Wichita school district’s chief athletic trainer, Jennifer Hudson, and J. Means, the athletic director for Wichita public schools, examined numbers Hudson compiled of injuries during the past school year at three of the district’s seven high schools with sports teams: North, East and South.

There were 46 concussions at those schools last year, an average of 15 per school, Means said.

If you take that average of 15 times seven high schools, that means an estimate of more than 100 concussions in the past year, Means said.

Concern about concussions in the district’s students started long before head injuries in the National Football League became prominent news in the past two years, Means said. There was a time long ago when there were fewer rules, and coaches sometimes listened when injured athletes insisted that they could keep playing.

Those days are gone, Means said. A concussion puts an athlete in danger not only from the initial injury but subsequent injuries; a concussion and other injuries can diminish a student’s performance in academics, he said.

“There’s a much more heightened awareness in our schools of the dangers,” he said. “We’ve had many discussions, put a lot of rules in place. The kids are better about dealing with this issue, too, because they are much more aware.”

All district games and practices have athletic trainers in place. Anyone suffering what trainers think is a concussion is not allowed to take part in practices or competitions until they are cleared by doctors. Even then the district puts the athletes through a gradual progression of exercises to test the athlete’s fitness.

“On the first day back there might be nothing more than some light running,” Means said. After that, athletes – closely watched by trainers – go through a gradual reintegration into practice.

“And any sign that symptoms have come back means starting all over,” Means said.

Hudson played a significant role in the past two years in helping researchers test a new mobile application that will help quickly test balance as a concussion symptom.

Means said the new tool, and similar devices like it, will give athletes and those responsible for their safety an extraordinary new way to protect them. He said he’s considering buying tablet computers for all district athletic trainers.

Overall, Means said, the three high schools – North, East and South – also reported 229 other athletics injuries last year, “everything from ankle sprains to stress fractures,” he said.

Preventing injury is a hard job, Means said. The district has about 6,500 athletes annually in high school and middle school. There are 21 sports offered at the seven high schools.

And because both girls and boys play most of these sports, and because there are varsity, junior varsity, freshman and sometimes even sophomore teams fielded, the high schools can have a bewildering number of teams.

Hudson said East High, where she works, runs seven teams during basketball season, for example. She and other trainers attend not only all the games but the practices, she said. In all, she said, she’s responsible for the safety of 800 athletes year round.

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