Collegiate junior Jordan Hull suffered three concussions in the past year and a half. Two, including her most recent during a basketball game on Jan. 4, were sports-related. The quick succession of concussions frightened her and she now wears padded headgear to protect herself.
North senior Conner Frankamp was scared about his future when he fell face-first to the basketball court on Jan. 18 and suffered his second concussion in the past three seasons.
The increased awareness of concussions and the unknown nature of long-term effects have resulted in little resistance from athletic trainers, athletes and parents about precautions, and even missed games and practices.
“Coaches have really bought into it, they understand it,” said Travis Francis, Via Christi Health’s sports medicine manager. “Generally speaking, the word has gotten out, and there are very few issues with coaches and schools.”
There’s been so much discussion on concussions that when a Collegiate boys basketball player threw up in the locker room Tuesday night, an athletic trainer was immediately called, coach Mitch Fiegel said. In the past, throwing up likely would have been attributed to the flu.
“We’re fortunate that we have the knowledge we have now,” Fiegel said. “We don’t know the extent of the issues if we don’t take these precautions.”
The education process has been critical.
In 2011 the Kansas legislature passed the School Sports Head Injury Prevention Act, which says a player diagnosed with a concussion cannot return to a game or practice in which it occurred and cannot return to the sport without being evaluated and cleared by a healthcare provider.
The law mandates athletes and their parents signing a form providing information on concussions.
“We haven’t caught any resistance,” said Brent Unruh of the Kansas State High School Activities Association. “It’s about educating people on what needs to be done.”
Part of the education process is noting concussions don’t only happen to football players, or boys for that matter.
“If I have five concussions during football, I bet I have three during girls basketball season,” Francis said. “People are diving on the floor. You don’t necessarily have to hit your head on the floor. It’s contact with others’ knees, elbows.”
Such contact is why Hull decided to wear the headgear.
I needed to somehow protect myself, and I wasn’t going to stop playing,” she said. “I’m an athlete. But at Collegiate, so much time is spent on schoolwork, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to (my brain) and lose out later in life because I didn’t do something when I was younger.”
Yet Francis isn’t convinced the headgear protects against concussions.
Concussions aren’t only the result of hitting one’s head, as many assume, rather it’s the whiplash effect on the brain.
“The brain sloshes forward, when it stops and comes back, you increase the velocity, and that’s when the brain hits the skull,” Francis said. “The contact within the shell causes the concussion. It’s not the blow, but the shake of the brain in the shell. You can’t stop that by wearing a pad or a helmet around your head.”
The headgear gives Hull a sense of security. Hull understands she must be honest about her symptoms.
“If you’re just in high school, you have the rest of your life, so you shouldn’t risk your life just for a sport,” said Hull, who plays volleyball and softball, too. “When you don’t feel right after someone hits you, you need to tell someone.”
Those who don’t share their symptoms have higher risks, but there are those who don’t want to miss a game or a practice. Frankamp missed two games, while Hull missed a rivalry game with Andale.
North athletic trainer Wes Bucher stresses the need for athletes to be up front about any symptoms.
“When someone like Conner receives such an injury, it only brings the awareness closer to home,” Bucher wrote in an e-mail. “Also, for those athletes that don’t report their symptoms, I’m seeing more instances of teammates letting me know that that athlete has been experiencing concussive symptoms. It comes down to a lot of education and recognition from the athletes, coaches, teachers, parents, and medical staff (teamwork).”