Parents in Manatee County want concussion policy updated

jdill@bradenton.comOctober 29, 2013 

BRADENTON ­-- Those bone-crunching Friday night hits generate loud "oohs and ahs" from the crowd watching an area high school football game unfold.

But those knocks aren't always safe for the athletes involved.

The recent focus at the National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association levels examining concussions has trickled down to the high school division, and now parents in Manatee County want a district policy put in place.

During the public comments portion of Monday's Manatee County School Board meeting, Michelle Atkinson took the podium to explain the seriousness of what's happened this past fall at area schools.

"Due to some staffing changes at the school district this year, the ball was dropped," said Atkinson, who said 40 concussions occurred this fall among athletes at five public high schools with only data from Braden River High School missing. "Concussion protocols with baseline testing did not become a district policy."

Atkinson's son, Mason, missed a month's worth of school after dealing with a concussion from playing freshman football for Manatee High.

Over at Palmetto High, where a dozen concussions are all football-related, Colin and Christy Kirker's son has been recovering from a concussion since Aug. 10.

He's now doing vestibular rehab weekly for his nervous system and sight and taking Parkinson's medication.

That's when Christy Kirker said she realized how serious the concussion was, she said.

The issue for the parents isn't just the serious nature of concussions. It's the absence of precise policy mandating baseline testing.

Athletic trainers at public schools in Manatee County are equipped to recognize concussed athletes, but do not possess baseline testing tools, which makes it difficult to gauge where the athlete is in the recovery stage, because each athlete's response from concussions is different.

Coastal Orthopedics Dr. Jeremy Ng, a concussion specialist, met with area athletic trainers at various schools to implement baseline concussion testing earlier in the year. It was supposed to become a districtwide policy. It did not.

"All the athletic trainers got their training to do the test," said Ng, who estimates 80 percent of his 10 daily concussion patients are school-aged children. "And then, we're kind of waiting. And the new board came in, and obviously they had a lot on their plate and a lot of other things to deal with. Our agreement was with the old regime, and it just didn't happen. ... The second part is the concussion protocol, which includes the ImPACT testing. ... It basically gave minimum guidelines as to how to handle a kid with a concussion, so the kid gets taken care of and the school is not left out on a limb."

To remedy the injury, Ng advises cognitive rest, which means athletes are expected to take time away from school, video games, cell phones, texting and television so the brain can recover.

When someone returns to action too quickly, all the symptoms can return. Some concussion symptoms, as listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include headaches, fuzzy or blurry vision, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, balance problems and nervousness or anxiety.

Executive Director of High School Management Dr. Mary Murray met with the parents following Atkinson's speech at Monday's meeting, and said district policy falls in line with the pre-existing mandate by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

"The Florida High School Athletic Association requires the baseline is done," Murray said. "Just like they have to have a physical, just like they have to have their insurance. They cannot take the field and even practice until that concussion assessment is done."

However, baseline testing is not mandatory.

Palmetto High athletic trainer Steve Krulich said his school is using the protocol established by Ng, but without baseline testing.

"It definitely hinders the process, because it's hard to tell if an athlete does get a concussion where they were previously," Krulich said.

Murray's words to the parents following Atkinson's speech left the group hopeful something will be done.

"I'm very positive about what's happening here," said Manatee High trainer Erica Buehning about the possibility of remedying the concussion issue with a concrete policy.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at jdill@bradenton.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill

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