The Sentinel Reports: School system initiates new concussion protocols and procedures

OXON HILL— Concussions have become one of the biggest issues in sports across the nation and now Prince George’s County is looking to become a leader in prevention and protocol.

The county school system has implemented an advanced concussion management system called XLNTbrain Sport in order to prevent and detect concussions that coaches and officials hope will help students return to the classroom and the field.

“A lot of communities and a lot of schools feel like ‘If I give my athlete a sheet of paper with concussion facts and tell them Johnny can’t play football on Friday unless your parents sign it’, that is concussion education for them,” Harry Kerasidis, the developer of the protocol, said. “Similarly, a lot of schools feel like doing a baseline test is sufficient to have something called a concussion management program, but a concussion management program really needs to be comprehensive. It needs to integrate the people and the tools involved in caring for concussed athletes.”

Kerasidis said a lot of focus is put on baseline testing for concussions, but the athletes needs to be monitored and taken care of even after the baseline tests are completed. Athletes also need to be aware of the symptoms of concussions, Kerasidis said, so they are able to spot and prevent them.

“An athlete will sign up and the very first thing they get is a 10-minute concussion awareness educational activity,” Kerasidis said. “Not only do they have to watch it, but they have to pass a quiz afterwards demonstrating that they really did get some education on concussion awareness.”

Kerasidis said the coaches and parents also participate in an activity and take an assessment so they are made more aware of concussions as well. Then, Kerasidis said, athletes go into a memory, thinking and reaction time baseline test in case they do happen to suffer from a concussion throughout the season.

The program also comes with a phone app, Kerasidis said, that will enable people to pull a possible concussed athlete to the side and guide them in a step-by-step process to test for concussions.

There are also measures that athletes have to take in order to test whether they can return to the classroom and return to playing their respective sports, Kerasidis said. If they are not ready to return to school, their health care provider has the option of providing them with an academic care plan that allows the athlete to come back to school with a combination helping them return to the learning process.

Robert Harris, head football coach at Surrattsville high school, said he has not had to deal with concussions yet this season, but the protocol gives him a procedure to use and provides him with essential baseline testing used to identify when a player has been concussed.

“We didn’t have to really use the follow up with it since we’ve had it,” Harris said. “At least we know we have a baseline measurement, so that if something does happen, they’ve already been tested to know where they should be under normal circumstances.”

The baseline measurement is essential for being preventative, Harris said, and the county has been proactive in its approach to dealing with concussions.

“In order to be preventative you have to be proactive,” Harris said. “The county has done that in a tremendous way through all the sports. All the sports have taken it. You just never know.”

Earl Hawkins, Prince George’s County Public Schools athletic director, said the new protocol educates students and the parents, which decreases the load on athletic directors and coaches.

Hawkins said the protocol sets a standard for the students before they have concussions so they will have a means of knowing when they are ready to return to play.

“The medical care provider that they choose has a resource to use to see where (the player) was prior to a concussion,” Hawkins said. “It’s definitely a benefit to that medical care provider to have so they know when (the player) is safe to return back.”

Before adopting XLNTbrain Sport’s protocol, Hawkins said, the county did everything by hand when it came to concussions.

“All the parents were notified in the parent packet,” Hawkins said. “And we did not have baseline testing.”

Hawkins said the service was voluntary last year but became mandatory in the winter and spring as the protocol yielded positive results.

“Really, this is the first full year,” Hawkins said. “Right now we still have some kinks to work out, but it’s going pretty well.”

Hawkins said the athletes have been receptive to the protocol. Hawkins said the county is still working out kinks to the policy, and will continue to make adjustments and improvements down the road.

“We are trying to do some more with this program,” Hawkins said. “The XLNTbrain program is only the beginning of what we’re trying to do.”

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Originally published Oct. 15, 2014 by Michael Sykes, The Sentinel http://www.thesentinel.com/pgs/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=873:school-system-initiates-new-concussion-protocols-and-procedures&Itemid=323