WILLIAM MUOIO ONLINE EDITOR
When Courtney Welch (’16) was tackled from behind during a soccer match against TASIS in 2011, she got back up and kept playing. Little did she know that this tackle would result in three months away from school as she had suffered a concussion.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I really hit my head hard.’ But I kept on playing,” she said.
Concussions have become a contentious and hotly-debated issue among all levels of athletics, from professional sports all the way to the school’s very own athletic department.
Concussions and their impact on the brain are now being put under the microscope more than ever. Most recently, thousands of former National Football League (NFL) players reached a settlement with the league that calls for the league to pay $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research to retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses, according to a court document filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
A total of 31 students were diagnosed with concussions during last year’s school year (24 of them from High School students and 7 from Middle School students). As a result of the rise in concussions at ASL, all student-athletes are now required to take a baseline concussion test at the start of the season.
The ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) Online test, which was implemented at ASL two years ago, records baseline scores for all athletes. In the case of a student getting a head-related injury, the student will then retake the test and Athletic Trainer Jenny Newell will compare the scores of the most recent test and the student’s baseline test.
ImPACT Online is the test that students use to determine if a student athlete has a concussion, because there will be no visual sign. “We use ImPACT to get a picture of how a person thinks. The test measures verbal memory, visual memory, reaction time and impulse control,” Newell said. The scores of these tests are not only used to evaluate whether a concussion has occurred, but also to measure progression in recovery from the injury.
Andrew Noorani (’16) has suffered three concussion-like head injuries since he was in first grade, most recently playing rugby at ASL last year. “For the third concussion, I missed the remainder of the rugby season. His [the other player’s] knee made direct contact with my head,” Noorani said.
Martha Collins (’17) has also suffered two concussions within the past year, both of which occurred while playing soccer. They each put Collins out of action for a few weeks. “After the concussions, there was a slow buildup back to athletics which was called the ‘return to play’,” she said.
Studies from a survey conducted by Standard.net, an online news media outlet from Utah, show that girls soccer is the sport where concussions occur the second most, only behind American football. The same study also shows that girls are more prone to sustaining concussions than boys, however there is not enough research to discover why this occurs.
While the athletic consequences to a concussion are certainly significant, the academic impact can be equally large. “One difficulty I had was concentrating. I was not up to my academic standards, which was frustrating,” Collins said.
Welch, who had to miss around three months of school due to her inability to focus, ended up taking many of her classes as pass or fail because she was unable to make up that amount of work.
Noorani recalls that his academics were affected as well. “My attention span was completely abysmal, especially in math,” he said.
The physical impact to the brain varies from incident to incident, and several concussions have resulted in very severe mental health problems. Former NFL Linebacker Junior Seau, who sustained multiple head injuries, committed suicide four years after retiring as a result of head injuries.
Both Welch and Collins have returned to soccer, playing on the JV team this year. Collins, despite difficulties in returning to the field, was eager to get back to playing. “It was also a relief, however, because I was finally back on the pitch with my team,” Collins said.
Noorani, however, is on his last chance and another concussion would sideline him from athletics permanently. “This mindset has not really affected me with soccer. However, with rugby I will have to be extremely careful,” Noorani said. “It is all about playing smart.”