As with other schools and athletic organizations, concussions have caused problems this year at Haverhill High.
At least 18 student athletes were diagnosed with concussions during the fall season, athletic officials said. One football player missed the entire season due to a serious concussion, officials said.
But the school has adopted a new policy aimed at reducing those numbers and preventing students with head injuries from playing before they are healed.
The School Committee has approved the policy, which governs how to handle head injuries and concussions. The policy applies to not only interscholastic high school sports, but to extracurricular activities at the middle and high school levels.
"It's a very comprehensive policy," said School Committee member Paul Magliochetti. "It is in the best interest of the kids."
The policy lays out procedures to test players who have suffered suspected concussions before they are allowed to return to playing their sport. In the past, players have tried to hide concussions or have been unaware that they had a concussion. According to the policy, all players who are suspected by a trainer to have a concussion must be tested and cleared to return to action before they are allowed to play.
The proposal was written up by a committee led by Haverhill High Athletic Director Tom O'Brien. It was passed at the Feb. 9 School Committee meeting.
The state Department of Public Health has required that all Massachusetts high schools participating in sports have a policy in place by March 1 covering how to properly handle concussions suffered by student athletes. Helping O'Brien write the policy were: Nurse leader Cheryl LeBlanc, Haverhill High Assistant Principal Tricia Fleming, Haverhill High athletic trainer Andy Berube, Northeast Rehab athletic trainer Dave Warwick, teacher and track/cross country coach Mike Maguire, and guidance counselor Andy Alsup.
In addition to ensuring that athletes are aware of the symptoms of concussions, the policy requires all players who participate in designated contact sports to undergo a baseline test called imPact testing prior to the start of each season. If a player is deemed to have suffered a concussion, they must be tested again to make sure their results match up with those taken during the baseline tests.
When a player suffers a head injury, they will be assessed by an athletic trainer who is on the sidelines at all sporting events. The trainer will assess concentration, memory, orientation and other symptoms. If the player is suspected to have a concussion, they must be removed from the practice or game. The trainer then notifies the parents and makes a referral to the student's primary care physician, as well as the school nurse.
The policy requires that before the start of each sports season, student athletes and their parents must sign a certificate that they have read materials provided to them by the school on the dangers of concussions. The materials include information about the symptoms of head injuries, the consequences of concussions and the rules the student must follow before they are allowed to return to play. Each student must also give the athletic director a physical history of any concussions or head injuries suffered in the past.
O'Brien said the School Committee will review the policy every year to make sure it remains in compliance with the requirements.
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