Four years ago, starting running back Kori Garcia suffered a concussion and was forced to sit out the Santa Monica High football team’s game against Morningside. The following season, Vikings running back Will Taylor was sidelined for a big game against Hart after sustaining a concussion a week earlier. The season after that, lineman Noah Anderson missed a rivalry game against Beverly Hills for the same reason.
And the list goes on.
Head injuries don’t just happen at Samohi, and they don’t just happen in football, and in recent years they have sparked grave concerns among athletes, coaches, parents, leagues, governing bodies and sports communities across the country.
With the arrival of the 2015 football season, CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod is again stressing the importance of following concussion protocols and educating players and staff about the safety measures in place.
“The emphasis remains on health and safety,” Wigod said in a phone interview last week. “We want to encourage everyone to be aware of concussion symptoms, and players must be evaluated before they return to play.”
Increased awareness of head injuries, particularly in football, has led to a spike in concussion diagnoses.
Some 400,000 brain injuries occurred in high school athletics during the 2008-2009 school year, according to statistics published by the Youth Sports Safety Alliance.
Concussions accounted for 24.6 percent of high school sports injuries in 2014-2015, up dramatically from 8.4 percent in 2006-2007, according to data compiled through the National High School Sports Injury Surveillance System.
“Concussion rates continue to rise, but more injured athletes are being diagnosed promptly and managed properly,” R. Dawn Comstock, a University of Colorado researcher who oversees the injury surveillance system, said in a 2013 report on high school sports injuries.
Concussions are typically caused by bumps, jolts or blows to the head and can happen without an athlete losing consciousness, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or noise, sleep problems and difficulty concentrating, among others.
“Return to play” concussion protocols are in place for football and other sports at Samohi and high schools across the section. After being diagnosed with a concussion, a student must advance through several stages of evaluation before entering competition. The minimum duration away from competition is seven days, Wigod said.
“If they don’t progress, it may take longer,” he said.
Wigod added that it’s important for teammates, coaches, parents and officials to be on the lookout for signs of possible concussions and err on the side of caution.
“Anyone who suspects a student to have a concussion or symptoms is to have that person removed immediately,” he said.
In addition, Wigod said, additional training is now in place for coaches regarding sudden cardiac arrest.
Meanwhile, a state bill signed into law last year sets limits on full-contact practices for middle and high school football programs.