Will New Concussion-Related Law Really Help?

State law now requires school districts to provide more training to coaches and athletic trainers about concussions. In order for teams to participate in UIL competitions — they must have a concussion team including a physician on standby.

Some of the concussion rules went into effect last school year. What's new this year is a two-hour training session required for all coaches and athletic trainers on spotting the signs and symptoms of concussion.

HISD Athletic Director Marmion Dambrino says they've been training their own coaches, plus helping smaller districts who don't have the resources to provide the training on their own. Teams are also required to have a doctor present at games, which can be a challenge for cash-strapped districts.

"Our physicians that we have are extremely generous and in many cases some of them volunteer their time. So for other smaller districts, it may be rather cumbersome for them but with this law in effect they're going to have to make accomodations."

Concussions are basically a minor version of a traumatic brain injury.

The effects of concussions vary widely and doctors think there may be more we don't know about concussions than what is known.

Dr. Omar Ilahi is an orthopaedic surgeon who has served as a physician for high school football teams for nearly two decades.

He says the new legislative rules are well-intentioned, but he's concerned that one provision of the law could cause problems.

"There is a downside in that the legislation went further and indicated that it was not just good enough for a doctor to say 'okay, you're cleared to return,' they set up a process through which an athlete has to go through to return to play."

That process takes several days, which means if a player gets injured on Friday night and sees a doctor first thing on Monday, he or she might not be allowed to return until the following week. Dr. Ilahi says that rule may have a negative effect in some situations.

"The concern that raises is that because of the fear of being out two games, some of the kids may not report and some other people may be under some pressure to under-report the occurence of concussions."

But Marmion Dambrino says while there's always a concern about under-reporting injuries, she thinks it won't be a widespread problem.

"There are a lot of things I'm concerned about, but with our coaches having the training that they have — coaches know their kids. And they're very vigilant on what their kids — how they're performing in their classes, how they're performing on the field. And with the coaches out there and all the eyes on the youngsters, I believe that we're covered. Can one slip through the cracks? Certainly."

Dambrino didn't know the number of concussions reported in HISD sports last school year, but the CDC estimates there are as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the U.S. each year.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...