On Religion, The Media and Life as a 20-something in Chicago

ST. CHARLES — Nick McCullough doesn’t really remember what happened. It was September, and the St. Charles North Stars were playing their homecoming game against the Geneva Vikings. From the video he has seen, and from what his coaches and fellow football players at St. Charles North High School tell him, the 17-year-old McCullough does know he caught a pass during the first quarter of the game. That’s when his head connected with a Viking’s knee. “It didn’t really knock me out. I just didn’t know where I was,” McCullough said. “I kept asking the same question over and over again. I was really confused.” He sat out the rest of the game and woke up the next morning feeling like he was in a dream, he said. The last thing he could remember was the homecoming parade the day before. The parade had been at 1 p.m. The football game started at 7:30 p.m. McCullough, like an increasing number of student athletes nationwide, had suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head during the game. The number of athletic children going to hospitals with concussions is up 60 percent in the past decade, according to a study this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that has led about 20 states to pass youth concussion laws in 2011, according to data collected by Education Week. That includes Illinois, which passed the Protecting Our Student Athletes Act in July. Last week, Elgin School District U46 approved a new concussion management policy required by that act, as did Burlington-based Central Community Unit School District 301 at the start of the school year. St. Charles School District 303 was expected to pass a similar measure Monday night at its school board meeting. The Community Unit School District 300 board policy manual online does not include a concussion policy. The Carpentersville-area school district did not immediately respond to a call from The Courier-News. Concussion cause Concussions result from “a blow or motion to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull,” according to the Protecting Our Student Athletes Act. They can “disrupt the way the brain normally works,” ranging from mild to severe. Concussions are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports, according to the act. The CDC estimates as many as 3.9 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States. The state of Illinois reported 10,011 traumatic brain injuries, which include concussions, according to the latest data provided by the CDC in 2006. Of those, nearly twice as many were male (6,234) as female (3,777), and the biggest number (1,600) were between the ages of 15 and 24, according to CDC data. Neither the Kane County Health Department, Sherman Hospital in Elgin nor area school districts U46 or 303 track that data locally. But Dr. Matthew Stilson, medical director of Sherman’s Emergency Department/Immediate Care Centers, said anecdotally, “We do see more people come in with concussions.” Many of those, he added, are mild concussions that hospitals may not have seen a decade ago. “I think a lot of it is there’s more awareness about the symptoms,” Stilson said. Those symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, fuzzy vision, sensitivity to light or noise, amnesia, irritability and memory problems, according to a concussion information sheet approved by U46. Teammates, coaches and parents may notice the student athlete is confused, forgets plays and can’t recall events before or after he or she was hit, the sheet said. ‘Real injury’ St. Charles North head football coach Mark Gould said students now “are hitting with more force. They’re stronger. But the helmets are better.” About four North Stars sustained concussions this football season, Gould said, which is “about typical.” But, the coach agreed with Stilson, teams are watching for symptoms of concussions more than in the past. Also, he said, “I think in the past a kid may be less apt to say he was dizzy, less apt to say they have a headache.” “I think kids know it’s better to say something in the long run,” Gould said. “There’s not a stigma with it. It’s a real injury. It’s something everybody believes is there.” That awareness of symptoms and lack of stigma are at least partly because in December 2009, the National Football League acknowledged for the first time that concussions can have lasting consequences, the coach said. That can include persistent memory problems, changes in personality and an inability to learn, according to Stilson. An NFL player now must be cleared by a doctor not affiliated with his team before returning to a game or practice after showing signs of a concussion. Protecting athletes The Protecting Our Student Athletes Act requires the same for all student athletes in Illinois. Getting checked out, even for a mild concussion, is a good thing, Stilson said. The “risk of catastrophic injuries or death are significant” when a concussion is not properly evaluated, as the Protecting Our Student Athletes Act noted. Moderately severe concussions can carry with them a risk of bleeding inside the brain, something only a CAT scan would catch, the doctor said. And, Stilson said, “There’s definitely research showing that a second impact in a very short time after the first one can lead to more serious complications.” All Illinois school districts also must use education materials provided by the Illinois High School Association to educate student athletes and their parents, as well as coaches, about concussions and head injuries, according to the act. Student athletes and their parents must sign off on the concussion information sheet approved by U46 before students can play sports. In District 303, Gould said, “We just want to err on the side of caution. Things haven’t changed too much.” This school year, the St. Charles school district introduced a computerized test that measures a student athlete’s cognitive ability at the start of their season, the coach said. In addition to being cleared by a physician, he or she must pass that test again before returning to practice after a concussion, he said. That’s the procedure McCullough followed after his hit during the North Stars’ homecoming game this fall, he said. He went to the hospital to get checked out after the game, he said. The next day, he stopped by his junior homecoming dance “for like an hour, and I couldn’t handle the music so we left,” he said. He had headaches for a few days after that and finally was cleared by his doctor about three weeks later, he said. Even after his concussion, McCullough said he’s not too worried about his safety playing sports. The other players may be “bigger, stronger and faster,” but he knows his teammates are working hard, he said, and he’s working hard so they can hold up next to anybody else. But, he said, his mom isn’t quite so at ease. “She was really scared. She says if I get another one, I can’t play football anymore,” McCullough said. “Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.” To read the original story, visit The Courier-News. Photo: Sun-Times Media.

In Uncategorized on December 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Area school districts team up with Illinois concussion laws (Sun-Times Media)

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