Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange Sports

Parent Questions South Orange-Maplewood District’s Dissemination of Concussion Info

“Concussion.”

The word alone sparks all sorts of emotion, especially in the football world. Concussions have been in the sport for years and years, but are now in the forefront as more knowledge about them has become accessible. The issues surrounding their link to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) have also become prevalent, especially with new light being shed by Gisele Bündchen about around the secrecy surrounding her husband Tom Brady’s concussions. However, concussions and CTE run deeper than professional sports, and they have become the focus of parents throughout the country.

Last year, some Columbia High School parents felt there was a lack of focus on the threat posed by concussions and CTE. Multiple parents signed a letter written by local parent Michael Kasdan that voiced their concern over the school’s treatment of CTE and concussion education.

The letter, addressed to CHS administration including Athletic Director Larry Busichio, discussed the fact that the coaches of the football team went to the local middle schools to recruit players for the team, advocating “Heads Up” tackling, and not talking about CTE. Kasdan and the other parents were not happy with the lack of attention paid to the potential dangers of CTE, as kids came home and were upset when their parens had doubts about letting them play football.

While it appeared that the school would make efforts to further it’s education on concussions and CTE, at the Freshman Athletic Orientation the following school year, Kasdan said that did not happen.

“On Tuesday May 16, 2017, there was a CHS Freshman Athletic Orientation and the written agenda on the flier included ‘concussions in sports,'” wrote Kasdan in a letter to district administration. “From those in attendance, I understand that concussions (or other head and brain injuries) were not discussed, other than to mention that we do baseline concussion testing.  I also understand that the football team had signs regarding ‘Heads Up’ tackling techniques.”

The only mention of concussions was the implementation of baseline testing, Kasdan reported. Baseline testing is a test done to establish the usual level of brain activity to monitor when a player has sustained a head injury.

Kasdan, who began writing for the Good Men Project Sports years ago, is asking that “the District and athletic department … commit to giving full and complete and non-misleading information on the risks of football to students and their parents, and not just on concussions, but on other traumatic brain injuries like CTE.” The school has promoted the relatively new “Heads Up” method of tackling as the main form of combat against concussions and other head trauma. However, Kasdan said that the “Heads Up” method has been questioned heavily since its inception in 2012.

The suicides of former football players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau are frequently referenced when discussions on CTE take place. Their brains both showed symptoms of CTE, and the numbers of former NFL players who are or could be headed down a similar path of brain trauma are rising, resulting in newfound fear in the football community.

It has been long known that football is a contact sport, and is one of the most violent sports when it comes to the variety of collisions involved in every play.

“At base, football is not only a contact sport but a collision sport,” said Kasdan. “What we are learning is that it’s not only the big hits, i.e., the ones that lead to concussions which can lead to harm but also that a series of smaller sub-concussive hits can lead to diseases like CTE.”

The research on CTE is fairly new, and has become prevalent only in recent years. Busichio acknowledged that “concussions and blunt head trauma happen in football and over time can lead to CTE” but also believes that CTE can be linked to more than just football.

“Even a sport like soccer is trying to make moves away from usage of the head because of the recent concussion research,” Busichio said in an interview with Village Green.

Busichio said that there is concussion and CTE research from Boston University posted on the school’s website. Within that same page, there are even more links embedded for government and college websites on concussions and the variety of effects they can have, including CTE. (See the page here.)
While this information is in fact readily available, it is not really known to the community, said Kasdan, who has spoken at the local schools to try to bring more awareness to the issue. His work with The Good Men Project is also devoted to bringing accurate concussion and CTE information into the forefront. Kasdan has even spoken at schools throughout the district trying to spread this information, which he said is valuable and important.
Both Busichio and Kasdan agree that there is no real way to protect people from concussions and CTE entirely at this moment in time. While Busichio said “every athlete goes through baseline testing and concussion protocol when they get injured,” he said that testing and protocol is “not enough to keep athletes entirely safe from CTE.”
Kasdan said he is “unsure that we can do anything to reduce the risk of injury other than reduce the number of hits.”
“I support things like flag football below the age of 14, etc. The less hits at a young age the better,” explained Kasdan.

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