Concussion program aims to test 1 million kids

Posted Aug. 02, 2011, at 6:19 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 02, 2011, at 7:50 p.m.

Jerome Bettis finds the numbers astounding.

Nearly 3.8 million youngsters had concussions last year while taking part in sports and recreation. Bettis, a former star running back, is plenty familiar with concussions during a 13-year NFL career. He says he had “three or four that I could say were a problem.”

Now the player known as “The Bus” wants those young athletes to have the same sort of care that professional leagues provide. He is a spokesman for PACE (Protecting Athletes Through Concussion Education), a program that provides tests for more than 3,300 middle and high schools. The hope is that 1 millions kids will have the exams and learn about concussions.

The program will be funded by Dick’s Sporting Goods, which will sponsor appearances by pro athletes who have experienced concussions.

“When I heard the number, that really did surprise me,” said Bettis, a finalist this year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “You don’t really expect it to be that many.

“And you recognize it is a high number and how important it is for kids and parents to understand the educational aspect of dealing with concussions. That’s not to say these could have been prevented, but the more you know about concussions, the more treatable they are and the more you can prevent it from becoming a major problem in a child’s life.”

PACE is designed to be the largest baseline testing initiative. It uses a computerized system known as ImPACT — Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing — that was developed in the 1990s. It begins with a 20-minute baseline test administered in preseason and again after an injury to track the possible effects of a concussion. Dick’s will cover the cost for up to 300 athletes per school.

To date, more than 2 million people from soldiers to athletes in high schools, colleges and professional sports have passed through the ImPACT program, making it the most widely used concussion evaluation system in the country.

USA Football, which oversees the sport on the youth level in America, has partnered with several college conferences and the NFL to promote a national campaign titled “Put Pride Aside for Player Safety, also designed to emphasize concussion awareness in youth sports.

“This program parallels the emphasis that USA Football, in partnership with the CDC, has placed on concussion awareness and education since 2007,” said USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck. “USA Football supports the proper medical management of concussion.”

Dr. Stanley Herring, a member of USA Football’s Football and Wellness Committee, also serves on the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

“Concussion isn’t a ‘boy’ issue or a ‘girl’ issue. It’s a youth sports issue,” Herring said. “Baseline testing can be a helpful tool to assist a health care provider diagnose concussion and determine a safe return to play. It is best used as part of a comprehensive concussion management program.”

Bettis agrees and wishes such programs were available to him when he was growing up.

“The problems I have had is there were a lot of dings and hits to the head that I thought were just me being cracked pretty good and something I needed to shake off and walk it off,” Bettis said. “Had I taken the baseline test it probably would have shown little irregularities.”

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