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Schools test athletes to track concussions

CHEYENNE — Student-athletes across Laramie County School District 1 are just a few short days from practice starting for fall sports. But before they take the field, court, course or track, those athletes will be testing their cognitive abilities in order to help detect concussions.

The district requires all seventh-, ninth-, and 11th-grade students participating in fall sports to go through a baseline cognitive test this week as part of the district’s concussion protocols. Students in other grades that didn’t go through a congestive baseline test last school year will also be required to take a test.

The test is administered on a computer, along with a balance portion. The results will allow doctors to compare the results of a cognitive test after a player has suffered a suspected concussion, and determine whether an injury has occurred.

Dave Bartlett, LCSD1’s assistant superintendent of support operations, said the district has done cognitive baseline testing of football players in the past. But starting last school year, when the district contracted with Cheyenne Regional Medical Group for athletic training services, Bartlett said the district has pushed to test every athlete, no matter the sport.

“This year I feel like we have full implementation across the board,” Bartlett said. “It will provide an important safety net for our kids.”

Todd Moser is the athletic training services coordinator for the Cheyenne Regional Medical Group and is coordinating the training program at LCSD1. His group is providing each high school with an athletic trainer and said the goal for the second year of their contract with LCSD1 is to standardize care across each high school.

Part of that is training coaches on how to do an initial concussion test on the sidelines and ensuring every athlete goes through the baseline test, Moser said.

“When a coach identifies or an athletic trainer suspects a player might have been injured, they do a test called the STAT5 and that’s more of a sideline test. It’s memory and recall and other things like that,” Moser said. “And if the coach or athletic trainer thinks it’s a possible injury, we’ll go and redo this (cognitive) test within 24-48 hours. And this test will compare them to that baseline they’re taking today.”

Once a player goes to their doctor and it’s determined through the baseline test that they have a concussion, Bartlett said the district has protocols in place to work with teachers and principals to get the student back into classroom activities.

A concussion can cause issues like sensitivity to light and noise, which can make getting back in the classroom difficult.

“Accommodations will most certainly have to be made on a case-by-case situation. Every child, every human being responds or reacts differently to a concussion and how they heal is different,” Bartlett said. “What we’ll do is provide the information to the coach, the athletic trainers and the building administration. And then they’ll work with the student’s teachers to make those accommodations for them.”

That piece of the program is an important part of the new concussion protocols, Moser said.

“It’s not like a knee injury, which is easy to see because the kid is limping. And maybe they need some accommodation with a wheelchair or help up and down the stairs,” Moser said. “When someone has a concussion, the accommodations may not be as obvious. So we want to make sure those kids are accommodated so they can do their schoolwork properly.”

Another part of the district’s protocols ensures coaches know if there is even a question about a potential head injury, that player is kept out of the game, said Jerry Schlabs, East High School’s athletic director. While coaches are trained in sideline tests, they are empowered to always err on the side of caution if they don’t feel comfortable trying to make that determination.

It’s a far cry from decades ago before the spotlight was put on concussions and the ramifications of brain injuries.

“Where it used to be, ‘rub some dirt on it and get back in,’ it’s completely on the opposite end of spectrum now,” Schlabs said. “We don’t let that happen. If there’s any question if there’s a concussion injury, they are evaluated immediately. It’s a complete change from where it was 20 years ago.”

Another major step this year will be using electronic paperwork for all the student-athletes in the district, Moser said. That will allow coaches and athletic trainers the ability to easily handle everything from ensuring a student has filled out the proper paperwork, to tracking recommendations made by a doctor for a player that has suffered a concussion.

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