Spotlight set on students' concussions

House to debate requiring schools to hold meetings for athletes, parents

But those Super Bowl dreams for many young players could come at a high cost to their bodies and in some cases their brains.

Concussions have become a growing concern in the NFL #8212; the league reported 154 concussions at the halfway point of the season, but the problem can start earlier.

That's why Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego has proposed legislation requiring schools to hold a meeting for student-athletes and their parents on the dangers of concussions. The athletes and their parents would have to sign a form stating they understand the risks.

#8220;We need to address an issue that's become a bigger problem than we knew,#8221; Cross said. #8220;The more education and awareness out there, the better chance of preventing it.#8221;

The idea would strengthen concussion policies the Illinois High School Association already has in place, including rules that hold an athlete from competition or practice if he or she suffers a concussion.

While the proposal would apply to all student athletes, football still causes the most concussions in high school athletes.

Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a neuropsychologist for the Midwest Center for Concussion Care based in Des Plaines, said she examines more than 15 high school players a week during football season.

Pieroth, who also serves as the concussion expert for the Chicago Bears and Blackhawks, said the increase in visits is actually good news. It means more people are realizing the severity of concussions.

While some of the focus on preventing those concussions have been on better helmets or other equipment, Pieroth said the best way to prevent concussions is for coaches to teach their athletes proper tackling techniques.

#8220;There is a lot that can be done other than just saying sports are bad. That's unproductive,#8221; she said. #8220;We need to be teaching kids how to tackle better, and in hockey, teaching them to keep their head up and to not check from behind.#8221;

While the NFL has cracked down on concussions, defenders who hit the hardest are still among the most glorified players.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined $100,000 for helmet-to-helmet hits this season and has a reputation for vicious hits to the head.

However, a hit to the head is not the only way to receive a concussion.

Tom Loew, an athletic trainer at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, said a hard hit to the shoulder or any impact strong enough to rattle the brain can cause a concussion.

He said the school has a process for students who suffer a concussion, including a 25-point checklist to diagnose the problem. Then, a student with a concussion must be inactive for at least seven days. If it is a severe concussion, he will refer the student to the Midwest Center for Concussion Care for further testing.

Loew said it is important to catch concussions early because people who have suffered one are six times more likely to have another.

#8220;It's one of the three H's as to why athletes can wind up dead with head, heat and heart,#8221; Loew said. #8220;It's really nice to see the preventive measures schools are taking to keep the kids alive and safe while they play.#8221;

Cross' attempt at further preventive measures could be debated by lawmakers this spring.

Marty Hickman, executive director of the IHSA, said he supports Cross' efforts but would like to see it expanded to park district and club sports.

He said youth football programs and other park district club sports also present the same dangers and are not monitored as closely as high school sports.

#8220;There are a lot of club volleyball programs, club soccer programs and youth football programs that also have the need to have good policies with regard to concussions,#8221; he said.