The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association voted Wednesday to implement a new concussion policy beginning immediately. The TSSAA Board of Control voted unanimously during a conference call for the new, more stringent policy in hopes of preventing prep athletes from suffering second concussions.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said he has been discussing the issue with coaches, parents and medical doctors for more than a year and decided to make a proactive decision rather than a reaction to potential deadly situation.
"There were four high school football players that died last year in North Carolina as the result of second-impact syndrom," Childress said. "Why wait until it happens in our state to take the necessary steps? In talking with several MDs, I learned that 90-percent of the time when someone takes a hit to the same spot that caused a previous concussion, it's fatal.
"We felt as the organization that can change and implement rules that this was an easy call and one that will protect our student-athletes. That is my number one passion, the safety of the kids who play sports in this state. The most important thing is not about winning or losing at our level, it's about safety."
Under the new rule, any player who exhibits signs, symptoms or behavior consistent with a concussion (such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems) will be immediately removed from the game and not allowed to return to play until cleared by a health-care professional. The TSSAA will mandate that a letter clearing the athlete be signed by the health-care professional.
This means that an athletic trainer on the sideline can not clear the athlete to return.
"We've worded it that way so that a trainer won't be responsible and it won't matter if a team has an actual doctor in the stands, because there isn't a doctor out there who would clear a kid to return to a game without having taken the proper steps, like an EKG or some other test.
"We've taken the decision of whether to let a kid return to a game out of the coaches and trainers hands. Whether a kid gets a concussion in practice or a game, we wanted the rule to be clear and the same for everyone."
Veteran Hixson coach Houston White said its not uncommon to have several kids suffer concussions each season. White added that during last year's game against Red Bank, two Hixson players suffered concussions and had to stay overnight in the hospital. One of those players was advised by doctors to no longer play contact sports.
"It's always a scary deal, and as a coach, we're not always sure whether a kid just got his bell rung and is okay to go back in or needs to stay out," White said. "I'm all for this rule. I'd much rather err on the side of caution when it comes to a kid's well being."
A University of Pittsburgh study on youth concussions reported that about 20 percent of high school players who play for four years will suffer a concussion. It also said several neurological reports have revealed that teenagers are more likely to suffer from prolonged brain swelling after a concussion, which means high school athletes may have a slower recovery rate.
According to a recent study from the Center for Injury Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, as many as 40.5 percent of athletes return to action prematurely following concussions.
"To be honest this is a rule that should have been in place before now," said Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne, who is also a member of the Board of Control. "But after gathering all the information, I'm very proud of the way our organization is taking steps to prevent a kid from being put in a dangerous situation. I also like the fact that the coaches and trainers don't have to make the tough call of whether to put a kid back in a game.
"With this rule, we've taken every precaution to keep the kids in our state safe."