June 24, 2018
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Brewer athletic director and team doctor discuss new head injury rules

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — Brewer High School athletic director Dave Utterback and team doctor Dr. Patrick Healy told the school board Monday night that new rules to prevent head injuries are key to protecting student athletes.

“This is a pretty tricky issue,” Healy said. “When is a kid OK to go back on the field? There is a lot of confusion about what that means.”

Healy, who completed his master’s degree in sports science and rehabilitation at the University of Maine in 2011 and worked an internship with UMaine’s athletic training and sports medicine department, said there are real dangers for those who suffer concussions and return to play too early.

“The reason it’s so risky to return a child to play … is something called second hit syndrome,” Healy said. “You can seriously injure the child by letting them go back in.”

The new state law, which is endorsed by the National Football League, requires schools to do a impact baseline study of every student enrolled in school sports. That baseline is used to assess the child, if they are injured, Utterback said.

“It gives us an baseline to go back,” he said.

The impact baseline is just one of several tests used to ensure a student is healthy enough to resume playing, Healy said, adding that when he is working the sidelines at a sporting event, he uses a functions test that has the same symptoms questionnaire and balance tests.

Headaches, the inability to concentrate, loss of balance and other symptoms are signals of a serious head injury, especially if they persist, the doctor said.

“We tested everybody this fall,” Utterback said. “At some point, we should start doing that with sixth- through eighth-[graders] as well.”

With the baseline tests done, parents are now worried about how they will be used to asses their children, Healy said.

“People are uneducated about what it is,” he said. “They think getting that test is a death sentence.”

In reality, it may mean just the opposite, Healy said. Second hit syndrome is a rare but usually fatal condition.

Coaches also have a lot to learn, the athletic directors said.

“This is going to take a lot of teaching to get out of the old smelling salts [train of thought],” Utterback said.

After hearing the presentation, the school board unanimously endorsed the new school policy regarding the management of concussions and other head injuries.

Brewer High School principal David Wall told the school board last month that he and other team members are working on a five-year plan. He unveiled the 10-page plan Monday night with about 25 teachers and staff in the audience to show their support, four of whom stood at the podium and said why they liked the plan.

The document is broken into parts — measures of progress and lead objectives and action strategies — Wall told the school board.

“This is just a framework. A skeleton so to speak,” the principal said. “This is a starting point.”

The main goal is to increase high school graduation rates and also increase the number of students going onto college or technical schools. To reach the goals, Wall and his team added high expectations, with eight bullet items, as their lead objective; creating 21st Century learning expectations, with five bullet items, as the second lead objective; and creating a school culture that students can connect to, with six strategies, as the third main objective.

Wall said the five-year plan does include “very lofty goals,” but in his opinion, “if you shoot for the moon and don’t get it — you’re still in the stars.”

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