CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – There's been growing concern in recent years about the impact of concussions on athletes, from the peewee ranks all the way up to the pros.
Returning to the playing field too quickly can increase the risk of suffering long-term consequences. Starting this fall, a local school district is going the extra mile to make sure student athletes are really ready to be back in the game.
Ed Skiba is the executive director of secondary education at Chippewa Valley Schools. After doing some research, the district decided it needed to take steps to help protect student athletes who may suffer a concussion.
"This concussion issue is becoming bigger and bigger every year, athletes are bigger, stronger, faster than ever before," said Skiba. "When a kid gets hurt, usually the natural reaction is he wants to get back on the field as soon as soon as possible. The parent wants them to get back on the field as soon as possible and sometimes even the coach."
A new policy will help prevent that from happening too soon. It starts with something called an ImPACT test.
"Each of our student athletes, grades seven through twelve, will take part in an ImPACT test which is a computerized testing that will give every athlete a baseline," said Kari Drogosh, the athletic director at Chippewa Valley High School.
Every athlete in every sport must complete the test before they will be allowed to participate. It measures verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time.
"This test is used by the NFL and the NHL also to monitor their athletes, and we think this gives us a better tool to be able to assess our athletes if we suspect a concussion or a head injury," said Drogosh.
If a student suffers a concussion, they'll retake the test and the results will be compared to their baseline score.
"It will give a measurement scale to determine whether that athlete can participate in sports again," said Drogosh.
The new policy also requires the student to be cleared by a doctor trained in evaluating concussions.
"Finally we have a form that has to be completed by a doctor that verifies this student is cleared and ready to participate," said Skiba.
The entire process will take a minimum of six days.
Chuck Ahee is a senior at Chippewa Valley High School and co-captain of the football team. He says initially, students were worried about the new rules.
"Everyone was pretty concerned that if you got a head injury that they were going to be over-dramatic about it and not let you go back on the field and try to baby you," said Ahee.
But Ahee says there is growing awareness of the risks.
"You could be messing with the future or take years off your life potentially, as we've seen with some other athletes that have suffered severe head injuries."
Because concussions are a risk in any sport, the policy applies to athletes in every sport.
"Soccer especially for females, and cheerleading is also an extremely high injury sport for concussion, along with wrestling and even you can see some volleyball players," said Drogosh.
The district has also done a lot to educate players and parents about the symptoms of a concussion. Skiba said the new policy takes the pressure off the athletes to get back on the field and puts the decision in the hands of the experts.
"We're trying to do whatever we can to make sure that our kids are safe when they start playing and again as the season continues that we're not going to put them back in a situation that might do them irreparable harm over the span of their lifetime," said Skiba.
"No one thinks it's going to happen to them. Everyone thinks someone else will get the concussion, but the fact of the matter is that it's very real and it does happen to players every year," said Ahee.
To learn more about the ImPACT test, click here.