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As I watched my daughter play basketball in a rec league this past weekend, I was shocked, disappointed and sickened at the events that unfolded right in front of me and a crowded elementary school gym full of other kids and parents. I could not make up the story I witnessed.
For those that know me, I am passionate about helping educate coaches, parents and kids about concussion recognition and prevention. I have been fortunate enough to be part of that process here locally in Anne Arundel County and with the Athletic TIPS (Towards Injury Prevention in Sports) organization.
Sitting courtside like other parents of these 10 year old girls, in a very tight elementary school gym, with 12 minutes left in the second half, I witnessed directly in front of me, a young girl from the other team get hit on the side of the head, unexpectedly, with a ball that was deflected by her team mate. What happened from there to this unsuspecting young girl was “text book”. In a matter of seconds that seemed like minutes, I could see the loss focus in her eyes and like a deflating balloon, this highly energetic young player melted to the ground. The coach got up immediately, as did I and father of this young player who was sitting 3 seats from me. All the kids around her “took a knee”, as they are instructed to do when a player is injured and before this child could be evaluated, she was picked up off the floor and taken to their team bench by her father. I mentioned to the mother as she ran by to check on her daughter, “if I can be of any assistance….” And she was gone.
I watched the girl in a daze on the bench. I watched the dad sit next to her on the team bench. I watched the mom give her an ice pack for her head and then watched her run to her purse when she got an ibuprofen for the “headache” that she was having. I stayed in my seat as the game went on hoping to get a chance to talk to the parents after the game.
With 5 minutes left in the game my stomach turned as I watched the coach return this clearly dazed child to a game. Without trying to be a “pushy parent” I said something to the official about the clearly dazed girl returning to the game. I said something to the people at the scoring table as well. Nothing was done. During a time out I mentioned it again to the official. The second official, not working our game agreed that the child should not be allowed to return to play but she remained in the game as I was told, “it was the coach’s call”.
Before the final ticks came off the clock, I had a chance to talk to the girl’s mother. I shared with her what I saw happen and the importance of having her daughter evaluated as soon as possible. That is when my frustration grew even more. She shared with me that her daughter not only had a history of headaches but a prior concussion.
As soon as the game was over, I then took the opportunity to talk to the coach and explained to him for his benefit, as well as the kids he coaches, that it is required by the county rules and state laws to keep that child out from playing after sustaining a head injury until she is evaluated by a licensed health care professional with experience in concussion. (Maryland, House Bill 858 / Senate Bill 177) This Maryland law makes it easy for coaches not to get involved in parent conflicts. The law is what it is. More importantly, it protects the child from a “second impact syndrome” and other complications that can arise. He went on to tell me he returned the child to play because “the dad said she was ok”. Apparently in this case, the coach, referee and parent had no idea what the law is, its intent, or in this case common sense.
Even in professional sports with multi-million dollar athletes playing in the most important game of their lives, follow similar rules and must be evaluated before returning to play. Why not our kids?
As I was getting into the car to take my child home with a knot in my stomach, I overheard the daughter telling her mom that she did not remember getting hit or what occurred during that brief time. We started to pull away and the mother stopped and asked me again, “should I have my daughter evaluated”. Again, I answered, “YES”!
Real life stories like this play themselves out every day across the country to both boys and girls involved in every sport. Everyone’s focus in this part of the country is education and it is available in so many places at so many levels. If we as a county are making errors in judgment like this, living in an area where the latest information on concussion is right at our fingertips, what is happening elsewhere?
Why do I do what I do? It is because the kids in our county, this state and this country should have the opportunity to be kids. Have fun! Play! Compete! And do it in a safe and supervised environment.
What can you do? Take a class, live or on line. At least, go through the CDC’s on-line concussion class. More and new information is coming out daily on the care of concussions. Prevention, recognition and learning what to do when and if a suspected concussion occurs can make or truly break a young athlete’s future. My daughter later reminded me that I said to the coach as she was standing there to come to the counties workshop that I will be teaching, weather he needs to recertify or not. It can only help.
On the drive home while I vented to some of my colleagues from around the country on what just happened, my daughter asked, “dad, what would have happened if she got hit again when she went back into play?” Not the conversation I wanted to have after a long day she had playing a futsal game in the morning and 2 basketball games in the afternoon, but I broke it down for her. Yes, even at 10 years old it is important to know so kids can help kids. We as parents do not always see and hear everything, but if we can get the kids to help, it can make a difference in the future or a young athlete.
Does this keep me as a parent from letting my child participate in sports? Absolutely not! The benefits of youth sports far out way not participating in organized physical activities (a topic for another time), if it is done safely.
I truly know why I do what I do and why we are just at the beginning of this journey…