Last winter, the star-studded movie Concussion focused public attention on the risks of traumatic head injury in professional football. In the movie, forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith) fights to convince the National Football League to accept his research on CTE brain injury in pro football players. The movie helped boost public awareness of concussion-related injuries into the mainstream. Although it focused its attention on the NFL, the issues raised by Concussion affect athletes at all levels of play, including young athletes playing at the middle and upper school levels.
According to Athletic Director Dr. Tim Green, KCD has been well ahead of the curve when it comes to developing programs to prevent and manage concussion-related injuries for athletes in all sports. Dr. Green feels that the Bearcat athletics program already has strong policies in place to keep our athletes safe and said that those policies continue to develop in response to new research and techniques.
Nearly ten years ago, KCD became the first school in Kentucky to embrace a comprehensive concussion program for athletes at all grade levels. This includes a policy that soccer players not begin heading the ball until high school—a policy that exceeds the recommendations issued by US Soccer in 2015.
In the fall of 2015, KCD’s football program adopted rugby-style tackling at all levels of play. This technique teaches the player to tackle with the shoulder instead of the head, eliminating the head contact that can lead to concussions. Rugby tackling was first popularized by the Seattle Seahawks and has since been adopted by many college football programs. The football team worked with a former U of L rugby coach to help develop and implement the new drills and techniques.
The following year, Dr. Green and head varsity football coach Matthew Jones attended the 2016 AFCA conference to learn more about rugby tackling and other alternative approaches. The football team has adopted additional new tackling techniques from Dartmouth football as well as the Practice Like Pros program, which encourages high school coaches to adopt the non-contact practices used by the NFL.
KCD has also implemented policies that safeguard athletes in all sports, such as the ImPACT concussion baseline testing program. This program was introduced under the guidance of certified athletic trainer Ray Hibbert. According to Trainer Ray, the baseline test is an important component of concussion management. The ImPACT test provides a pre-injury snapshot of the athlete, allowing neurologists to compare post-injury test scores to the athlete’s own baseline.
Trainer Ray also helped develop KCD’s return-to-play protocols, which provide a set of structured guidelines to help athletes who have had a concussion return to play safely.
“No sport can guarantee that athletes are completely safe from concussions,” said Coach Jones, “but our goal and our obligation is to get the players to gameday and keep them healthy and safe. Times have changed, skills and drills have evolved, and our program has been ahead of the curve in all aspects to protect our athletes.”
photo by Amber Ritschel ’18