Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School senior Jack Verploeg wanted to play.
He would have been crazy not to.
But on the eve of the 2009 state football championship game against Valor Christian, Verploeg found there were more important things. The week before, in a game against Pueblo Central, Verploeg was hit hard going over the middle. He suffered a concussion.
“I wish I could have played,” Verploeg said. “But at the same time, all I would have done is make it worse.”
That’s the last thing that should happen with concussions. They’ve always been a taboo subject and hard to understand. But the days of a player getting his bell rung, rubbing some dirt on it and getting back in the game are fading.
Thanks to the SportsMed Concussion Management Program, the game and the way head injuries are treated are rapidly changing. SportsMed is working with physicians, athletic trainers, coaches, schools, teachers and families across Routt County to help understand the management of concussions.
SportsMed offers balance and vestibular assessments, ImPACT neurological testing and visual testing, among other things, to help people understand concussions.
“I think it’s been surprising how many kids have hit their head and maybe have some processing issues,” said Scott Blair, a physical therapist with SportsMed who helps run the ImPACT tests. “It’s not just stuff we’re seeing with computer tests, either.”
For Verploeg, that meant taking the ImPACT test after his concussion. An ImPACT test measures the effects of sports-related concussions. It can help determine how long an athlete needs to recover and protects him or her from the consequences of returning to action too soon.
With ImPACT tests, Blair and fellow physical therapist Lance Pugh recommended taking the test early and getting a baseline. From there, they said, it’s easier to understand the severity of the concussion.
“The results are helpful,” Verploeg said. “It lets you know what you’re lacking in mentally and whether it’s mental or physical. I found it really helpful.”
The idea behind the ImPACT test and SportsMed’s concussion program is to get all high school and middle school students and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club members to do a baseline test before the year.
Because SportsMed can sync up the test online, it can be taken anywhere, making it easier to use.
The focus of the testing now is on middle school, high school and Winter Sports Club athletes, but active members in the community can get one if they want. The cost for a baseline test is $15.
“Without a doubt, it is almost over-the-top successful,” said Chad Bowdre, the Winter Sports Club’s director of operations and the main person doing the ImPACT tests with the club. “It’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do. We’re holding some athletes out longer than we would have, and it’s allowing some athletes to return sooner than we would have allowed.”
The test takes about 30 minutes. If a person has a baseline and suffers a concussion, the results and further balance and vision tests can help doctors and physicians understand a better timetable for getting the athlete back to action.
“This really offers drastic changes in how we’ve traditionally approached concussions,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, who is certified in the testing. “We’ve really evolved our thinking of concussions. In the past, we used some guidelines, but they really weren’t evidence-based.”
On Thursday, the House Education and Labor Committee heard from several people about what concussions at the high school level can do.
It’s estimated that 10 percent of high school students will suffer a concussion at some point, and from 2005 to 2008, there were an estimated 400,000 concussions at the high school level.
Previously, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on head injuries in the professional ranks.
“It was clear to us that if the NFL was paying attention to concussions at the professional level, we should be doing the same at the high school level,” Democratic California Rep. George Miller, chairman of the education committee, told The Associated Press.
Only Texas and Washington have rules in place for high school students returning to play after a concussion. Washington has the strongest rule, requiring a licensed health care provider’s written approval before an athlete can return.
Although Colorado doesn’t have a law, the SportsMed program is putting Routt County ahead of the curve.
“I just think it’s an invaluable tool,” said Amy Wharton, who has two sons who have done the ImPACT test. “It’s a privilege for our community to have it available.”
Wharton’s son, Ben, suffered a concussion during the high school hockey season. Ben took the ImPACT test one day and another one two weeks later. The results were like night and day.
“I like to know where they were so we can have the most information available,” Wharton said. “The baseline test helps anyone. It helps doctors and coaches to not have them continue activity when they are still having symptoms.”
To set up an appointment with SportsMed, call 871-2370.
— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229
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