High school football programs around Virginia will begin practice this week with new athletes, new plays and a new law.
Senate Bill 652, which went into effect July 1, requires each local school division to develop policies and procedures regarding the identification and handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes. The student-athletes and their parents will learn how to spot concussion-related symptoms through a 25-minute concussion course given through National Federation of State High School Associations.
"The new law requires a sign-off that they have been made aware of the signs of concussions," said Tom Dolan, assistant director of the Virginia High School League, the governing body of the state’s 312 public high school athletic programs. "Anytime you can give information to parents and athletes, that's a great thing. Our concern at the VHSL is helping the member schools get on board."
All student-athletes on an interscholastic team must adhere to the new law, passed in 2010, regardless of sport. Student-athletes and their parents must complete an online informational session and sign off before the start date of the sport.
There have been several studies on concussions and their long- and short-term effects. Common symptoms of concussions are, but aren’t limited to, headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, confusion, loss of consciousness and a dazed appearance, according to sportsconcussions.org. An online database that records student injuries reported 544 concussions in the 2008-09 school year, according to a December 2010 story in Science Daily.
Oakton High School has taken measures to help prevent concussions with the purchase of new helmets for the entire football program, one of the most concussion-prone sports.
The football Booster Club to buy Schutt Air XP helmets.
Coach John Glufling, Oakton's junior varsity head coach, addressed concussions in an informational program designed for moms at the school, .
"No helmet is concussion-proof. This is just one more thing we can do for the kids to help prevent concussions," Glufling said.
He said the program saw two concussions last year, and with the help of parents, hopes Oakton will not see any this year.
"Drinking the right amount of fluids is another thing, and you moms can oversee that at home," he said. "We can't eliminate concussions, but we can try."
Robin Harris, Ivy League executive director, applauded Virginia's decision to enact a law that makes both parents and student-athletes aware of concussion symptoms. The Ivy League itself has made headlines for their decision to shorten the number of full-contact practices football programs can have a week.
The NCAA says football programs can hold five full-contact practices a week. Starting this year, Ivy League schools will only have two full-contact practices a week. Harris said the decision came after she and the presidents from the Ivy League's eight institutions have been following studies and stories about the effects of concussions.
"To hear states are doing this on their own is great," Harris said during a telephone interview. "I think it's a very needed step."
Dolan said educating people about concussions and their effects is one thing, but getting accurate data on them is another. He said getting accurate information about the number of concussions suffered by VHSL athletes is almost impossible because of the mentality of athletes to want to compete. He is hopeful that with the new law that student athletes, their parents and coaches will be able to identify concussions better.
Glufling also addressed this mentality, saying it needs to go away.
"The bravado of being a football player needs to stop," he said. "We will look out for symptoms, but sometimes the only way we can help your son is if we know something is wrong."
Oakton Patch Editor Nicole Trifone contributed to this article.