Written by Aaron Alexander
The shot goes up and bounces off the rim. Senior forward Correy Moyer, of the Lady Bison basketball team, goes up for the rebound, makes contact with another player and falls head first onto the hardwood. Moyer was taken out of the game and spent three recovering from a concussion.
Bren Grymes, athletic trainer for the women’s basketball and volleyball teams, said Harding takes concussion protocol seriously.
“Concussions are totally unpredictable,” Grymes said. “You always have to be vigilant watching out for players.”
If Grymes sees that a player may be concussed, she will notify the coaching staff that they need to come out of the game for evaluation. During the evaluation, Grymes asks the player questions or to repeat a series of words. She also checks the player’s senses by testing the athlete’s sense of touch, sight and hearing. If there is any chance of the player having a concussion, Grymes will sit the player out for the rest of the game and follow up with more tests in the following days.
“The hard part about concussions is that they are so hard to diagnose,” Grymes said. “There are certain signs that signal an athlete has a concussion, like if they respond badly to the sensory tests after first impact.”
Harding uses a computerized test to examine concussions. The baseline test examines an athlete’s reaction time, memory, mental processing and brain function. The test is administered to every Harding athlete before the season begins. If an athlete is diagnosed with a concussion, he or she takes the baseline again and the results are compared to the athlete’s original score. A concussed athlete must pass the baseline before they can start the return-to-play protocol.
The return-to-play protocol involves five steps: First, the athlete goes through light conditioning activities such as using a stationary bike or jogging. Second, the athlete begins sport-specific exercises. Third, the athlete moves to heavier conditioning with no contact. Fourth, the athlete starts teams drills with light contact. Fifth, the athlete participates in a full-team practice with contact.
Grymes said athletes cannot move on to the next step until they are symptom free. Also, every step calls for the athlete to attend a full schedule of classes.
Not every impact to the brain causes a concussion, but it is better to err on the side of caution and evaluate an athlete who may be concussed, according to men’s soccer head coach Jon Ireland.
“It used to be with collisions you didn’t think anything about it, but now your first thought is to check for a concussion,” Ireland said.
The concern for future health complications leads some athletes to leave their sports. Ireland said a goal keeper left the team last season because he was diagnosed with his third concussion in his collegiate career.
However, some players still continue to play with concussion history, as is the case with junior Emma Chilton of the women’s soccer team. Chilton experienced a concussion in high school. After her recovery, Chilton said she was hesitant to go after the ball, not wanting to get another head injury. However, she continued to play until that fear was gone.
“The physicality is what makes soccer fun,” Chilton said. “I like to compete; that’s why I play.”
Chilton’s response is echoed by many Harding athletes who say the fear of concussions does not affect their decision to play the sports they love.
Concussions are a difficult injury to understand, and as research continues, Brian Cox, director of athletic training at Harding, said the university will look into new research and guidelines to insure the well-being of student athletes.