By Jonathan Tsou
Accounts of high school football players dying as a result of concussions have come through the news cycle for a long time. Recently, many parents and doctors have come out publicly to ask school districts to eliminate football from their athletic departments. They argue that the high prevalence of concussions can cause brain injuries that can damage a player’s brain throughout their adult life. They also say that football causes over 55 times more brain injuries than any other high school sport.
In California, all football games are sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF). The CIF State’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has worked on protecting players for more than nine years. In 2010, they formed a protocol for all member schools that any player suspected of concussion cannot return to play until seen and cleared by a doctor.
In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, they said that 58 percent of concussions happen during practices. In response, the CIF passed a full contact practice law that states that football teams are limited to two days per week of full contact practice with no more than 90 minutes of full contact on each of those days during the season.
In 2013, Governor Brown signed into law that when coaches are renewing their CPR and First Aid certification they must complete training in signs and symptoms of concussions. The state also provides a free online course that is available through the National Federation of State High School Associations website (https://www.nfhs.org/).
Recently, I spoke to many school districts in the San Gabriel Valley in hopes of finding what they are doing to protect the welfare of their players.
Arcadia Unified School District, which has a highly regarded sports medicine program and a brand new Career Technical Education (CTE) building, responded that “[Arcadia Unified] takes student-athlete safety beyond serious in all our schools, especially with the contact sports, and take a lot of extra measures to ensure our athletes are protected. We are very cautious in our approach and never risk anyone’s health or well-being for a game. Never.” Jack Sessions, their CTE head trainer, also said that for any athlete to return to the sport, they must go through three vital steps: to be completely symptom-free, cleared by a doctor, and to re-take an impact test.
Randall Bell, Monrovia Unified School District’s athletic director, also said that concussion awareness has been a hot-button issue for their high school athletics. They ask players to sign a concussion-awareness page whenever they are applying for a team and also educate their coaches on concussion awareness. He also mentioned that post-concussion procedures require each student to complete a minimum seven-day protocol, or otherwise known as the “Return to Play” contract.
Pasadena Unified School District (PSUD) also released a statement saying that “athletics coaches are required to receive training by state law and the rules of the Pacific League of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section.” PUSD also partners with the Huntington Medical Research Institute, which is a locally based non-profit organization. Together they conduct interventional research programs. These programs help as a supplement for physical exams, screening exams, and magnetic resonance imaging. Included in the program are health surveys and evaluations.
Those who do not support banning football believe that schools should not take away one of the most popular pastimes. Some supporter also says that even if schools do ban football, it will not solve the problem of concussions.
Parents and families of athletes are deservedly doubtful of the protection for their children. Although it is unlikely that high school football will be banned in your local community, it is important to understand what is going on. For more information regarding high school football, visit the CIF’s website (http://www.cifstate.org/landing/index).