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Efforts underway to protect high school athletes from concussions

It's a response as old as standing up for the kickoff. Any time a high school football player came up woozy after a hit, the usual reaction was to laugh about how he got "dinged," or had his "bell rung."

The goal among coaches, trainers and doctors now is to make everyone understand it's no laughing matter. These are, after all, brain injuries.

In Sonoma County, the response to concussions is building gradually. Under the guidance of Heather Campbell, a certified athletic trainer who also teaches PE and sports medicine, Casa Grande High School in Petaluma uses a web-based platform called Concussion Vital Signs to baseline-test athletes in every impact sport.

Senior lineman Tyler Dodd saw the full scope of the program this year. At the first mandatory practice of the year, before school had even started, he wound up with a headache after hitting a teammate awkwardly during a tackling drill. Campbell sent him home, and the next day instructed him to take the cognition test. He failed.

Dodd couldn't return to action until he had been cleared by a physician, and one of the doctor's criteria was successfully passing the test. Dodd missed two weeks of football.

"It was frustrating to be out two weeks when I felt like I could have been back," said Dodd, whose symptoms mostly disappeared after the first week. "But I understood the reasons."

Analy High in Sebastopol and El Molino in Forestville have started baseline testing this year, the result of start-up grants from Dick's Sporting Goods. Both are administered by Dr. Dan Parker of Santa Rosa. Cardinal Newman has initiated the process of signing up for similar technology.

Local schools also may benefit soon from a Wells Fargo program called Play It Safe. Launched a year ago, it includes education and baseline testing, but also has an insurance component that helps remove or reduce a school's liability. John Breckenridge, a senior vice president in Wells Fargo's student insurance division, calls it a "soup-to-nuts solution."

Play It Safe currently works with about 25high schools, districts and youth programs, mostly in California. Breckenridge has met with Santa Rosa Unified School District officials and believes they will team up, perhaps as early as next spring.

Dr. Ty Affleck wants to start a nonprofit organization with the aim of taking concussion education, including a plea for baseline testing, into Sonoma County schools. He currently is working with two Kaiser doctors and one public health official to get it started.


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