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February 22, 2012

Editorial: Policy puts everyone on notice of long-term concussion risks

Concussions are nothing new in the world of high school sports.

In fact, there may have been more of them in the old days, when football players wore leather helmets and protective head gear of any kind was practically unheard of in other sports.

What's new is the awareness that concussions can cause significant health problems, both in the immediate aftermath of the injury and later in life. The risk is much greater when an athlete is encouraged to return to the field too soon after a head injury and suffers a repeat concussion.

That awareness has resulted in schools keeping better track of concussions. During last fall's athletic season, 18 Haverhill High athletes suffered suspected concussions.

The awareness of the risks posed by concussion have also spurred the state Department of Public Health to require all schools to adopt a concussion policy by March 1.

It's a step that's long overdue.

Haverhill beat the deadline by about three weeks, with the School Committee voting Feb. 9 to approve the policy written by Athletic Director Tom O'Brien. The policy covers extracurricular activities as well as athletics at the school and the middle schools (see story, page 1).

The comprehensive policy requires student athletes and their parents to read literature provided by the school about concussions and to sign a document certifying they have read the material.

It's absolutely critical that athletes and their parents learn to recognize signs of a concussion and understand what can happen if they ignore those signs.

At the start of each season athletes playing contact sports must also undergo a test that measures their mental acuity and establishes a baseline that can be used to compare their reaction after a suspected concussion.

Contact sports include football, soccer, field hockey, cheerleading, basketball, diving, ice hockey, wrestling, skiing and lacrosse.

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