More than 100 coaches, athletic directors, teachers, administrators and others gathered in Pittsburgh and locations throughout the state Tuesday to learn more about the effects of concussions on students' health and academic success. Those in other areas were participating via video conferencing in the first-of-its-kind student athlete concussion management conference.
"They are learning so much more about concussions than what we knew 'back in the day,' and it's not so much that concussions are increasing, it's just that our awareness of concussions and the scientific data now and evidence shows it's a serious mild-traumatic brain injury," said Diana Malone, with Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which hosted the conference.
The event is a lead up to July 1, when the Pennsylvania Safety in Youth Sports Act takes effect. The law, which was passed late last year, aims to reduce the risk long-term damage for student athletes who suffer concussions or other brain-related trauma while playing sports.
"Many athletes have concussions throughout the course of the school year, and not only is this a negative thing for their personal health, but it can affect their return to school and how they actually perform in the classroom," said Dr. Mark Lovell, chairman and CEO of ImPACT, a provider of tests that measure brain function before and after a concussion.
The law requires coaches and others to complete a concussion management certification course annually, and outlines removal from play guidelines as well as protocols for returning to play and returning to school after a concussion. Penalties for coaches who don't comply include a suspension from coaching for the remainder of the season of play up to permanent suspension from coaching.
The main purpose of the conference and the new law is to ensure that everyone involved in a student's concussion management team knows what's best for the student, though it's all really still a work in progress.
"90% of what we know about concussion we've learned in the last 10 years," said Lovell, "so we're really going at warp speed now in terms of the learning curve and hopefully two years from now we'll know even more than we do now."