Pilot Concussion Program Aims to Protect BHS Athletes

This fall, BHS was selected as a pilot school for a new program aimed at improving the detection and treatment of concussion injuries. Concussions are surprisingly common among high school athletes, not only in collision sports such as football, hockey and lacrosse, but also in soccer, basketball and cheerleading. In response to growing public concern about the long-lasting negative effects of brain damage that teenage athletes are subjected to, the state of California has passed numerous laws that aim to educate coaches and protect students. Since these measures are still insufficient, there are now new supplemental programs to help reduce concussions and other serious brain injuries.

BHS is one of five Bay Area high schools chosen for the program.  It is sponsored by Dignity Health, a large healthcare network with financial support from the San Francisco 49er’s, UCSF and other partners. Lauren Small, a certified athletic trainer who leads the implementation of the program at BHS, credits Dr. Cindy Chang, a UCSF professor and former BHS parent, for nominating BHS. Dr. Chang is the Co-Director of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Program.

An additional advantage for Berkeley High’s inclusion in the program is that Lauren Small is certified through UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, and is trained in the administration of a special cognitive test method.

“ImPACT is a computerized neuro-cognitive test that is widely used in the professional, collegiate and high school levels of sports throughout the world,” said Small.

The cognitive assessment includes a series of tests in which students have to memorize sequences, count numbers backwards, etc.

The first test, administered at the beginning of the season, establishes a baseline for the student’s cognitive ability, and the tests taken afterwards are matched to the first one to see if any significant differences have occurred over the course of the season. Another element of the new program is the Barrow Brainbook, an online tool which teaches students to recognize and respond to concussions. It is available to all student athletes at BHS. Additional concussion training for coaches is also included in the new program. Contrary to common perception,  concussions do not always involve a loss of consciousness, and can have subtle symptoms which require special training to detect.

The program builds on existing legal requirements stipulating that coaches must enroll in a concussion training every two years and that parents and students must sign paperwork at the beginning of each season. In addition, California law requires that if a student is suspected of having a concussion, they must be removed from the sport for the rest of the day, and at least until a physician has cleared them.

According to Lauren Small, this fall term the football and cheerleading teams participated in the new program. All winter sports teams will take part, and in the spring the program will focus on lacrosse and softball, and perhaps other teams.

In addition to BHS, other Bay Area high schools will be using the program.

These include, George Washington High School in San Francisco, Overfelt High School in San Jose, Carlmont High School in Belmont, and Milpitas High School.

Together, these high schools have over 1,400 student athletes. If the pilot program, or a similar one, were to become mandatory for all high schools across California, it would cover some 1.8 million student athletes.

However, based on the current economic status of public high school sports, it is unclear who would provide the funding for a state-wide implementation.

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