New Concussion Procedures Lauded

WHEELING – A recent ruling by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission regarding concussions is certain to have an ”ImPACT” when it comes to area athletics.

The SSAC is requiring head coaches in the high school and middle schools of all sports to receive training on how to recognize concussions and get any kid with any type of symptoms off the field and to a medical professional. The plan is to collect all reported data once a month so they can acquire as much knowledge as possible and hopefully help further prevent head injuries down the line.

Naturally, folks like Dr. John DeBlasis, director of physical therapy at Wheeling Hospital, is a fan of the ruling.

For more than a decade, DeBlasis and his group have administered ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), developed by world-renowned Neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon in Pittsburgh. It’s the same technology used by the NFL.

Seventeen area high schools do their baseline testing through Wheeling Hospital. It’s so advanced, they can go on-site to administer the testing.

”I think it’s a plus,” DeBlasis said of the SSAC’s decision. ”Any time you’re trying to make participating safer, I don’t know how that can be interpreted as being wrong.”

Some did, which is why West Virginia was among the last of the 48 states nationwide to have adopted such a ruling. That’s mostly because of a failure of those in legal fields and medical fields to agree on protection.

DeBlasis and other area doctors have been pushing it for years.

”I honestly like it because it protects the kids,” Oak Glen football coach Ian Whittington said. ”I think it’s a great rule. They’re trying to get into the new age of concussions. I think it’s great the state of West Virginia is now stepping up and realizing the results of concussions and what they do to a person.”

Bishop Donahue football coach John Durdines, whose club, like Whittington’s, has each of its players baseline tested, says there’s a bigger issue at play than winning a football game.

”There needed to be something done,” he said. ”These are kids; they are young men. Let’s face it, they can dream, but maybe one, two a decade will play pro sports from the Ohio Valley. They have their whole lives ahead of them.”

For that reason, Durdines doesn’t mind if the onus falls on him in any case where something doesn’t look right in a players’ eyes or actions.

”I don’t look at it as a negative; I look at it is a positive,” he said. ”I care so much for these young men, I want to have the final say.

”It’s a catch 22, I like the fact that I’m the one doing it because I always err on the side of caution. But obviously there’s some negative feedback.”

That will probably be felt at some of the bigger schools, like Brooke, where head football coach Sean Blumette fully supports the SSAC’s plan, but wonders about its practicality.

On any given Friday night, Blumette can’t honestly say he sees the eyes of each of his players, though assistant coaches will be looking out, too. If it’s an obvious hit, sure, but if it’s behind the scenes and a player says nothing, he’s not sure it won’t immediately slip through the cracks.

”I’ve coached a lot of kids that won’t admit they have a broken bone, let alone a concussion. It’s a shame they think that’s OK, but in football, you teach kids to play with a little bit of discomfort.”

Blummette said each four-year player at Brooke is baseline tested twice, and they’re big on safety in all aspects, so they generally agree with the SSAC’s safety-first call. He wants every coach and trainer on his staff well-informed and keeping their eyes peeled.

”The most important thing to us is getting through the season healthy,” he said. ”You never want a kid to have a longterm injury because of high school football. And it’s even worse at a lower level.

”If a player on my team gets a probable concussion, we are going to take every probable caution. But one of the things I’m afraid of is where do you put the blame? Who does the buck stop with? The SSAC says it’s the coaches, the coaches say it’s the trainers. It seems to me we’re trying to find someone to put the blame.”

While concussions occur in any sport, football is the big one. Nearly any type of contact could result in a potential head injury, but it generally occurs when players hit head to head.

”They say football is a contact sport,” Blumette said. ”It’s not, it’s a collision sport. I think some of these problems really are caused by the fact that the safety equipment just hasn’t caught up with the size and the speed of the players. Football was never designed for two guys weighing 300 pounds who run 4.5 40s running into each other.

”All we can do is the best job we can to monitor it and teach proper techniques, and teach our kids to get the medical care they need so it does not become a longterm problem.”

Though he’s not yet celebrated his 30th birthday, Whittington played in an era where concussion education wasn’t what it is today.

He experienced one concussion in high school and a few more in college.

”I know exactly what my symptoms were,” he said, ”though there were a couple of times I don’t remember a bunch of it.”

That’s generally the case with a lot of high school coaches, so the sensitivity is strong.

”We’re hyper on concussions (at Oak Glen),” Whittington said. ”It’s not just because of liability reasons. But because of the safety of kids. I want to make sure my athletes are in top shape, and I don’t want to put a kid out of there who can’t protect himself.”