Today more than ever, football players and coaches are using their heads when it comes to concussions.
Reducing the frequency and severity of head injuries is a hot topic in sports medicine, which is part of what prompted players and coaches at a few area private schools to participate in new cutting-edge research they hope will ultimately improve athlete safety.
Specifically, the athletic programs at ESD, Parish Episcopal, and Trinity Christian have joined other college and high school programs nationwide in a study by UT-Dallas professors into diagnosing and treating concussion symptoms more quickly and effectively.
“I got extremely excited and told the team the importance of it,” said ESD football coach Richard Williams. “They understood the benefits of it.”
This fall, the training room at ESD has added a device called NeuroTriage, which involves athletes having their eyes examined and compared both before and after their daily practice or game. All players who have given parental consent — about 30 so far — are participating.
“It measures how quickly the pupils dilate and constrict,” said ESD head trainer Jeff Geier. “If there’s a suspected head injury, that will happen slower.”
For now, the school is simply helping to gather research for the UTD project. Ideally, if the research moves forward, Geier could look at the data each day to see who has symptoms that need further examination.
“It’s valuable in detecting minor brain injuries that can lead to concussions,” said Dr. Robert Rennaker, a UTD biomedical engineering professor who is spearheading the research. “It’s designed to monitor brain performance over time. This system provides quantitative information about making an informed decision to return to play. You can protect kids and make sports safer.”
The UTD researchers also are experimenting at TCA with accelerometers, which are patches that attach inside the helmets of each player to distinguish between head movements and body movements during head collisions.
Rennaker said the research team hopes to release preliminary findings after collecting data during this season, and then develop more guidelines regarding the system next year.
ESD senior Drew Winsauer said he decided to endorse the project as a way of spreading awareness about concussions and helping future generations of athletes. He said it follows other precautions the team has emphasized.
“We’ve been focused on making sure our chinstraps are buckled and our mouthguards are in,” Winsauer said.
While many football and volleyball players at ESD have signed up for the program thus far, Williams would like to see more participation across all sports.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re doing the research that they’re doing,” Williams said. “Anything that we can do to keep our players healthy, we want to do.”