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.
When a player suffers a blow to the head during a practice or game he or she will be checked by a trainer. If the player is disoriented or display any other symptoms of a concussion, he or she must be removed from the playing field.
Parents are notified, and the athlete is not allowed to return to playing without passing the required tests and being cleared by a physician.
The policy drafted by O'Brien - with the help of nurse leader Cheryl LeBlanc, Haverhill High Assistant Principal Tricia Fleming, trainers Andy Berube and Dave Warwick, teacher and coach Mike Maguire and guidance counselor Andy Alsup - is a sensible one.
It puts everyone on notice - school officials, coaches, trainers and parents - that they have a role to play in making sure an injured player doesn't succumb to the temptation to return to action too quickly, risking permanent damage.
In high school, students have virtually their entire lives ahead of them, and no game is worth the risk that their future will blighted by lingering mental or physical problems.