The Importance of Recognizing Concussion Symptoms on Local, State Levels
Injuries to the head are 'just part of sports,' according to state high school athletics director. See how Andover High has changed how its trainers and students prevent and treat concussions.
On a February night in 2009, high school basketball player Jacob Gordon set himself to take a charge inside of Andover High School’s gymnasium. As the 16-year-old sophomore playing for Andover’s junior varsity team was instructed to do, he planted his feet, put his hands up high, and waited for the opposing player to send him flying onto the hardwood floor.
Gordon, now a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Michigan, suffered a concussion after slamming his head onto the court.
Instantly, Gordon knew there was something wrong.
“I felt dizzy, nauseous and my head hurt terribly, so I immediately took myself out of the game,” said Gordon. “I needed to seek medical attention before my conditions worsened.”
“The experience was terrifying,” he said. “I was concerned with the fact that concussions are serious, and must be treated as such.”
According to the National High School Sports Injury Surveillance System, Gordon was one of an estimated 140,000 high school athletes across the United States who suffer a concussion each year.
Shira Schiff, an athletic trainer for 30 years and Andover’s head athletic trainer for 12 years, said that other athletes who suffer head injuries should follow Gordon’s lead in knowing when to take themselves out of a game.
“Kids have to be honest, and realize that the severity of head injuries and trauma to your brain are more important than the game itself,” Schiff said.
Winston Urwiller, a former football quarterback for Andover who graduated in 2012, admits he was not honest when suffering from concussion-like symptoms.
“It was the final high school football game of my senior year, and I hit my head on the turf pretty hard,” Urwiller said. “My vision was blurry, I was nauseous and I wasn’t myself, but I didn’t tell anyone.
“At the time, it seemed like staying in the game was a good idea since it was my last football game ever. However, looking back, I realize that it wasn’t worth it to risk my health for two more quarters of high school football.”
Concussions are a more serious issue today than ever before. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency department visits for sports related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, has increased by 60 percent among children and adolescents during the past decade. In addition, the CDC estimates almost 4 million sports-related concussions occur every year, with many times more going untreated.
It is Schiff’s job to make sure that Andover students’ concussions are accounted for, and treated fast. In a necessary attempt to do so, she has reached out to the parents of athletes.
“Parents need to teach their kids to be honest with coaches and us medical staff and realize that the integrity of the game is not as important as your life,” she said.
Schiff also said there are varying degrees of concussions that have drastically changed over the last several years.
“Back when I started, there were separate categories for concussions such as mild, moderate or severe,” Schiff said. “Now, each concussion is treated separate and individualized on how each particular athlete reacts. There is no longer such a thing as a mild concussion.”
Andover High School recently shut down its football program just three games into this season. Schiff said players’ lack of interest and abundance of injuries—several of them concussions—contributed in the decision to eliminate the remainder of the football season. It was the team’s final season together as an Andover unit, as the school is merging with district rival Lahser next year.
“The terminology used to be that you just got your bell rung,” said John Johnson, Michigan High School Athletic Association Communications Director. “Now, we have come to realize that if you have your bell rung, you’ve got a problem and athletes need to be aware of that.”
The MHSAA has implemented a new rule stating that whenever an athlete’s helmet comes off in a collision sport, that player must go to the sideline and get evaluated by a team trainer before returning to the game. MHSAA officials also make it mandatory that all coaches attend a meeting at the beginning of the year, where they watch a video detailing how to treat and detect concussions.
“It doesn’t matter if you have the best equipment, and play as safely as possible, you are going to have kids suffer concussions. It is just part of sports. You have to make sure that the kids are properly trained and coached, but realize that no matter what you do, it will never be enough.”
“Within the last few years, parents, medical professionals and athletes have come to realize how dangerous concussions can be,” he said. “People’s attitudes are getting much better about this, so hopefully we see a decline in concussions and the lasting effects they can have.”
Gun is an Andover High School graduate and a current journalism student at Michigan State University.