Texas orders big high schools to report football-related concussions
Texas officials are requiring the state’s largest schools to report concussions suffered by high school athletes in a move seen as the nation’s biggest effort to track brain injuries among young athletes.
Beaumont United and West Brook high schools are now required to report under this initiative.
The University Interscholastic League, Texas’ governing body for public high school sports, on Monday ordered the schools to submit individual concussion reports. Texas leads the nation with about 825,000 high school athletes.
The requirement applies to schools in the most populous Class 6A UIL designation. Staff at those schools must answer more than a dozen questions on each player — such as when the concussion occurred, whether it came from contact with the ground or another player, and so on — that are relayed to researchers with the O’Donnell Brain Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
“This is the first of its kind quality-improvement program in the country, certainly the largest,” UIL Deputy Director Jamey Harrison said Tuesday.
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All 50 states by 2014 had passed or laws to address concussions in youth athletics, with all including some provision that an athlete suspected of having a concussion be removed from play.But it’s believed that Texas is one of just a few states, Michigan being another, that requires mandatory reporting. Michigan’s requirement that all head injuries be reported went into effect in 2015, while the mandate in Texas begins next August. Smaller Texas schools can participate on a voluntary basis.
Locally, West Brook High School football coach Eric Peevey said he supports the initiative, but he thinks the findings will improve public perception of the sport.
“I feel like the average person who might not be involved with football thinks we have 20 or 30 concussions a year,” Peevey said. “When really, I bet we don’t have more than three this season, and that’s from freshman all the way through varsity.”
He described the two concussions suffered by players on his team so far this season.
“Both were minor and both went through concussion protocol,” Peevey said. “They were both actually caused by contact with the turf, not head-to-head contact.”
Player injuries continue to grab more attention, even in Southeast Texas, where the sport enjoys widespread support.
Sabine Pass High School canceled the final six games of this season after a rash of injuries left the Sharks with just 12 players. In the first two games, four players were taken to the hospital with injuries, including a concussion.
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Last year, Bridge City High lost a player for the season to a torn knee ligament — on the first play of the first game. By season’s end, more than half of the team’s 40 players had missed time because of on-field incidents, including concussions, a spinal-cord injury and all manner of lesser twists and sprains.
Peevey said Texas schools have done a good job keeping track of player injuries.
“Really, this is no different than what we’ve normally done by documenting and entering to the district,” Peevey said. “We document every injury, even a broken nail or an ankle sprain. Now we’re sending the concussion information to the UIL.”
He added, “Anything that can help with the concussion situation in high school football, I’m for it.”
Coach Arthur Louis of Beaumont United could not be reached Tuesday night.
The change in Texas means the collaboration with the O’Donnell Brain Institute becomes the largest study of head trauma to young athletes.
“We’re pleased about mandating at least a subset of schools to report because that will enhance the information that we’re able to obtain,” said Dr. Munro Cullum, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and neurotherapeutics with the institute.
A primary goal is to determine the frequency of concussions, Cullum said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that upward of 3.8 million athletic- and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the U.S., but Cullum noted that CDC figures are based on emergency room visits and many cases go unreported.
He wants to then gather other information that can be a guidepost for school and public health officials. For instance, if a school gets a new turf field that’s meant to better cushion players when they fall, then is it also minimizing head injuries?
“What changes in rules, safety or equipment in some areas of the state are reducing concussions?” he asked.
Dawn Comstock, a professor of epidemiology with the Colorado School of Public Health, credits the move by the UIL but said it tracks concussions after they occur and doesn’t prevent them in the first place.
She draws a distinction between primary prevention — keep a concussion from happening — and secondary prevention — helping an athlete recover once an initial concussion occurs.
The change by the UIL “does absolutely nothing to prevent initial concussions,” Comstock said by email. “That is frequently lost during these discussions.”
This story was written by the Associated Press. Matt Faye of the Beaumont Enterprise contributed local reporting.