AIA mandates concussion testing for high school athletes

Looks like the AIA has finally found a way to create new programs for high school sports without getting a lot of blow-back.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body for the state’s high schools, has been getting lots of grief for changes it made in the division alignments over a year ago.  The traditional regional conferences were replaced by divisions and regional sections that were developed based on school size; individual sports like tennis began experimenting with the new alignments last year, while football is about to get a taste of the new system as it opens the 2011 season.

But now the AIA has issued a new mandate – and this one should have few, if any, detractors.

The AIA has partnered with two other major Arizona institutions to create a program that will involve education related to the health concerns involved with concussions, while also including an online test that will set a baseline for evaluation of the injured athlete (see Phxfan July 26 article for more information on the test).

Then the AIA took the logical next step and mandated that all athletes among the 275 member high schools will be required to take the online test, which can be done at home or at school.

“At the end, every student will have to demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of the content by passing a quiz at the end,” explains AIA Director Harold Slemmer, who also emphasizes that the program will be in place immediately and ready for the student-athlete’s use as soon as possible.

The educational module, called Brainbook, has been designed to resemble a social-media network, making it that much more user-friendly.

And Arizona also becomes the first state in the country to mandate the testing, hopefully becoming a model for other states to follow.

Which is also quite logical, since Arizona ranks second in the nation for the incidence of traumatic brain injuries.  Our state is one of 28 that have concussion laws that require concussion education in high school sports programs, removal of the injured athlete from play, and certification from a health professional before returning to play.

“The intent would be to reduce those second concussions,” says Dr. Javier Cardenas, a neurologist and brain-injury expert at the Barrow Neurological Institute.  “You can’t prevent all concussions, we know that.  The most important thing is that you recover from the first concussion.”

Statistics show that 90 percent of concussions occur without a loss of consciousness and athletes who sustain one concussion are at increased risk of further injury.  That’s why recognizing the symptoms is so important.

The increasing focus on the prevention and treatment of concussions in high school and college sports stems from research that shows that there are approximately 3 million sports-related concussions each year on a national level.  Approximately 7,000 are reported among Arizona’s high school population.

The other high-profile partners that have been working over the past year to develop the program include the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix and the NFL Arizona Cardinals.  The NFL and the Cardinals have been instrumental in recent years in helping to pass concussion legislation.

It’s also the first time that a collaborative education effort has been undertaken between a pro football team, a hospital, and an interscholastic agency.

“We’re proud to be a part of it and we hope it protects a lot of kids,” said Cardinals President Michael Bidwell, who also pointed out that the program will be used by some 100,000 athletes in this state alone.

On Saturday, another step will be taken in the crusade to protect high school athletes from the effects of concussions.  The Mayo Clinic will join with Arizona State University to put on the Arizona Concussion Summit at the ASU campus.

Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Fame skier, Picabo Street, and former ASU quarterback Steven Threet will be among a group of speakers during the two-hour program.  Threet ‘retired’ from football after suffering his fourth concussion last season, two games before his junior season came to a close.

The summit will focus on providing education and awareness of the risks involved in athletic brain injuries, and the need for careful management of the injury.  Participants will be educated on recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussions, changes in brain function that occur as a result, and the proper evaluation and management of the concussion.

It’s hoped that the event will attract coaches, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and medical professionals – anyone concerned about protecting the high school athlete.

Governor Jan Brewer also chipped in by issuing a proclamation declaring Saturday (Aug. 20) Concussion Awareness Day in Arizona.

Unfortunately, concussions in high school sports are not unavoidable, particularly in contact sports like football.  But through the efforts of these, and other, organizations, the spotlight is being put on the problem.

And solutions to minimize the risks will be the result.