Sports teams, from youth leagues to the professional level, are becoming increasingly aware of the long-term health risks of concussions and are doing something about the problem.
Star players have been lost for long periods of time, and professional sports leagues are adopting new rules and procedures to treat and prevent concussions. The concern has trickled down to the high school level as well, and Haverhill athletic officials are currently drafting a new policy on how to deal with concussions.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has required that all MIAA schools have an expanded policy in place by March 1 that will cover how to properly handle concussions suffered by student athletes. Haverhill Athletic Director Tom O'Brien is in the process of creating a detailed policy that will be presented during an upcoming School Committee meeting.
"Ninety percent of the plan we have had in place for a long time," said O'Brien.
Changes to the policy include procedures to test players who have suffered suspected concussions before they are allowed back onto the field. Before every season, players in designated "contact" sports must undergo an ImPACT test done by Northeast Rehab. ImPACT is an acronym for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing.
Northeast Rehab has a contract with Haverhill athletics to provide athletic training services to several sports teams. ImPACT is a computer-based test that provides a baseline of the athlete's current health and mental acuity.
When a player is diagnosed with "concussion-like symptoms" by a trainer, the player is immediately removed from the game and not allowed to return. The player must see a physician after 72 hours of rest. The physician must clear the athlete and the athlete must then undergo ImPACT testing again. If the results of the ImPACT test vary greatly from the baseline test, the athlete must continue to sit out.