Heads Up Alaska: Awareness of Traumatic Brain Injuries – The Role of Coaches and School Officials
ANCHORAGE - Student athletes don't always receive enough information about traumatic brain injury.
"It really wasn't that big of a deal when I played sports," said Service High School senior Lexi Stewart.
"No one really talked about it. Nobody knew about it. Coaches didn't really know about it, so how can a kid know?"
Stewart sustained a concussion, a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI), during flag football practice nearly three years ago. But she didn't understand the severity of her injuries until days later.
"I heard of concussions and they say, 'oh, you got your bell rung; you are okay.' A lot of coaches say you have a bump on your head and you will be fine, drink some water, sleep it off or whatever," said Stewart.
The Anchorage School District has adopted a concussion policy to make education and awareness of TBI a top priority.
"As coaches become more and more informed of what TBI does long term [and] short term affects, it's no longer the you know 'get up and rub some grass on it,'" said Sean Prince, the sports coordinator at Bartlett High School.
A former school wrestling coach and now assistant principal at Bartlett High, Prince doesn't play games when it comes to educating student athletes about TBI.
"This isn't about you not being a team player. This is about safety and being able to say 'I know when I had a concussion this is the way I felt; are you feeling those kind of things?' It's okay to just sit out, it's going to be better for you in the long run."
And sometimes it's up to the coach to make the tough calls.
"One of the most difficult coaching situations ever was when I had to tell one of my wrestlers who had sustained a couple concussions during the season and had a few from the previous season in football that he was no longer allowed to play athletic sports while he was in high school," said Prince.
Service High School nurse Panna Jarussi has seen many athletes suffer a TBI.
She says the old saying 'rub some dirt on it' is a myth.
"A lot of times a staff member or teacher will send them to me because they can't function in class they can't sit up in a chair they are sleepy, just different then say before the injury," said Jarussi.
Nurse Jarussi likens a TBI to throwing your cell phone on the floor repeatedly.
"You never know if it's going to reboot properly, you never know if the systems are going to work properly. Unlike a cell phone, you can't go to the store and get a new one if you hit it hard enough."
Sean Prince says the responsibility is also on the players to speak up.
"If you don't feel right, if your head feels a little bit weird, or [you] feel nauseous or dizzy or under exertion, you feel a little strange and you can trace it back before that game or before this incident – I felt fine, now I don't – it's a good indicator," said Prince.
School officials say parents can be the best gauge if their athlete is acting different and needs to be assessed.