NCCS ahead of concussion curve

As school systems statewide work to implement policies mandated by the Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act, Newton-Conover City Schools is "ahead of the curve."

The measure was signed into law in June, and NCCS Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said the school system began immediately laying the groundwork required to improve awareness, documentation and treatment.

"We quickly got on this in terms of complying with the new law," he said. "All of our coaches have been trained, and we have packets of information to all the parents, and they have to follow the law and sign-off on forms before their child participates."

Redmond also said a clear protocol has been established for responding to a concussion.

"We have been very responsive and very, very careful to take concussions seriously โ€” not even after the law, but before the law," he said.

In fact, Catawba Valley Medical Center Director of Fitness and Sports Medicine Marcus Osborne, LAT, ATC, CSCS, said Newton-Conover City Schools has been implementing baseline testing and other protocols required in the law for a couple of years.

"Newton-Conover City Schools is leading the pack right now," he said. "We currently do baseline testing for all football and soccer atheletes."

That testing, he said, involves a series of tests that assess cognitive functions, memory and balance.

"It is an initial evaluation, so that in the event, an athlete sustains a concussion, we can retest them and compare their responses to a quantitative value.

Even though, he said, there is never "one test" you can use to determine whether an athlete has endured a traumatic brain injury, he said it is a good evaluation measure to determine what level, if any, of concussion an athlete has sustained.

NCHS's testing is serving as a pilot in the county, and it is time intensive, he said.

Each test takes about five minutes, but when you apply that time to 80-90 athletes, "it adds up," he said.

In addition to serving NCHS, CVMC's athletic trainers work with Bandys and Maiden high schools, and Osborne said the baseline testing will be implemented there next year.

"With Newton-Conover's baseline testing, we are testing them every two years," he said, adding incoming freshmen and juniors take the baseline tests at NCHS, unless there is a prior history of concussion. "That makes it easier to implement."

Osborne cautions that while football garners the most attention when it comes to concussions, the injury occurs in other athletic arenas as well.

"Soccer is another one that has received a lot of attention," he said.

"Soccer and football" are the ones we focused the most on because they typically have the most contact."

However, any contact sport can have a threat of concussion, he said, including basketball or even volleyball.

"If you think about a spike to the face, that can elicit a concussion," he said.

In recent years, concussions and traumatic brain injuries have garnered a lot more attention, particularly since 2008 when North Carolina high school football players Matthew Gfeller and Jaquan Feller died after concussions they received playing football.

"As athletic trainers, we have been looking at concussions intensely for the last three or four years," Osborne said, "that is part of the reason we have gotten (the Gfeller Wallace Concussion Awareness Act) in place.

We are trying to educate the public."

Compared to years past, a concussion is now becoming more accurately viewed as a serious injury, he said.

"One of the things we dealt with early on is that a concussion is just a part of football โ€” a ding or you get your bell rung โ€” which belittles the idea of the injury," Osborne said. "With some of the research of the affect of these injuries later on in life, and even within a year, for the athletes that experience this, it is a serious injury we need to take seriously."