As the spotlight has grown brighter on the cause and effect of concussions in both the National Football League and the NCAA, as well as the advanced efforts being implemented to prevent and treat them, Sears’ bill has bolstered the ability of Vermont’s schools to monitor and treat concussions. “The time was right to take a comprehensive look at this issue for our young athletes,” said Sears. “The more we learn about concussions and sports injuries the more we can lower the risk, and that’s what this bill is about.”
The bill is centered around the four major collision sports: lacrosse, wrestling, football, and hockey. Schools that offer these sports will be required to have individual action plans for students who suffer concussions, which would include a plan for returning them to the field as well as the classroom. Past rules said that schools were required to have plans for return, but now they will be individually tailored to each student’s need.
According to Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals Association, the individual return plans are important, due to the rapidly changing and improving knowledge on concussions. “Each person can react differently to a concussion,” said Johnson. “What we also have found is the effect of what’s called second concussion syndrome. Once you’ve had one, a second concussion can be caused by something really trivial.”
Coaches of collision sports in Vermont are already required to undergo training for concussion response. Sears’ bill will require that all officials and referees be trained as well, and beginning July 1, 2015, all collision sports will require an approved health care professional or athletic trainer who has had concussion training within the past five years to be on hand at games. Most schools currently have medical coverage at games, but use ambulance squads and EMTs.
Schools will not be required to report concussions to the VPA. However, an independent task force is being set up by the Vermont Traumatic Brain Injury Institute, which schools can report concussions to, allowing the state to begin documenting their frequency and effect.
Sears was inspired to take up the issue after assistant coaching Division III high school football last fall in Montpelier. There he saw athletes who were hesitant to report concussions out of fear they wouldn’t be able to play again that season. “I thought about what do to encourage these kids to be more proactive in reporting their concussions to lower the risk,” said Sears.
Sears talked to Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School football coach, who suggested the action plan, which Sears says is the most important piece of the bill. Sears also said this was just the start of safety measures the state must take, including looking at possibly banning kickoffs, where Sears says the risk of concussions is higher.
Sears said the new requirements come at a very cheap price for Vermont taxpayers.“ We estimated a cost of $40,000 statewide. Considering we have a $2 billion budget, spending in this case is so miniscule.
“I would have preferred it be for all sports, but cost-wise it would have never passed.”
With knowledge of concussion risk, injury, and treatment increasing, Johnson said that there is still no helmet that can prevent a concussion. “Most people can go back and reflect on their own athletic history and they remember different times you got hit,” said Johnson. “Back then you said you got your bell wrung, but didn’t understand the impact that it really had.
“The earlier it happens to youth, the more it can have a huge impact on student development.”