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W. Va. Board of Education Approves New Student Athlete Concussion Rules

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Running out of the tunnel, the screaming fans, and the big plays you'll remember for the rest of your life are what high school sports are all about.

But if you're not careful, your high school sports career could be cut short.

"We are seeing concussions at an alarming rate. I'm not sure that there are more nowadays then there were back in the day, but they are definitely more recognized," said Mike Casselman, HealthWorks.

A concussion is a brain injury which results in a temporary disruption of normal brain function and symptoms can last from a few days to several months.

The National Federation of State High School Associations said estimated that more than 140,000 high school athletes across the United States suffer from concussions each year.

They occur most frequently in football, but girls lacrosse, girls soccer, boys lacrosse, wrestling, and girls basketball follow closely behind.

"In Marion County last year, 2012-2013 season, throughout all three of our Marion County high schools we had approximately 50 concussions," said Frank Moore, Marion County Athletic Director. "This year, 2013, with fall sports and winter sport we are up to 20."

The West Virginia Board of Education recently approved new rules for reporting head injuries in student athletes.

The new rules will require high schools to disclose the risks of sports-related head injuries with parents, coaches and the student athletes. Any head injuries also now will be required to be reported within 30 days.

This is something Marion County has been doing for years.

"The new policy to make sure that all the head coaches are aware of the concussion management protocol and the return to play protocol. They have to have the online class awareness that certifies the coaches for concussion management," Moore said.

Concussions may cause multiple symptoms. Many appear immediately after the injury, while others develop over the next several days or weeks.

Some of the most common symptoms reported by athletes are a headache, nausea, dizziness, fuzzy vision, confusion, and memory problems.

Professionals said many athletes will have difficulty in school.

If an athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he or she must be immediately removed from play.

"You take them to the sideline and that's where you'll conduct what we call a sideline examination. That's both a physical and a cognitive examination to determine if they have suffered a concussion," Casselman said.

Professionals said no athlete should return to play or practice on the same day of the concussion. Studies show the young brain does not recover quickly enough for an athlete to return to activity in a short time.

All athletes who receive a concussion must be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Even if they are cleared by a physician, they cannot return to play until they pass an evaluation by physical therapists.

"Just because they are released from the physician, doesn't mean that they will participate in a game event. They will slowly go through the return to play protocol to make sure that the student is safe," Moore said.

There are multiple steps involved return-to-play protocol.

"The first step is rest. Cognitive and physical rest," Casselman said.

Step two consists of moderate exercise. Step three is sports specific. This is to increase movement. For example, basketball players can shoot some hoops and even do a little jogging.

Step four consists of sports specific drills, step five means you're heading back to practice, and step six when you're allowed to be back in a game.

"We treat all concussions the same. They go through all the return to play protocol the same. All concussions are serious," Moore said.

We will continue to take a deeper look at concussions over the next few weeks.