Teaneck High School holds forum on concussions

Cheryl O'Brien, Teaneck Suburbanite

With football season in full swing, concussions are on the forefront of many parents’ and school officials’ minds as children head off to yet another game or practice. Reports of mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, occurring in sports on professional, college and high school levels have created concern among parents, educators, and coaches for the children who play.

In an effort to raise awareness of the issue, Teaneck High School and the Balance and Concussion Therapy Center hosted a forum Sept. 12 with presentations by Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, Ken Cieslak, athletic trainer, Danit Macklin, physical therapist and owner of Balance and Concussion Therapy Center, and Todd Sinclair, athletic director.

Other school officials in attendance included Interim Superintendent Vincent McHale, Board of Education President Ardie Walser, Vice President David Diuguid, and Board Member David Gruber.

Principal Dennis Heck, a former football player and high school coach as well as a Teaneck Hall of Fame inductee, opened the event, noting the importance of recognizing the signs of a concussion and refraining from "playing through pain."

"There’s life after sports," he said. "It’s all about your mental and physical health."

Huttle acknowledged state legislation passed in 2010 that mandates school districts establish a policy for concussion management and spoke about a resolution she planned to introduce this week designating the third Friday in September as Concussion Awareness Day, beginning September 2017.

"Teaneck has always been in the forefront of bringing issues to light," she said, adding that it is important to pass a resolution statewide.

Macklin presented a concussion awareness video created by Ridgewood High School through a grant program, which intermittently showed panned imagery of students playing lacrosse and cut to experts speaking about the signs and symptoms of concussions.

"Vigilance is the main point here," Macklin said after the video. "Not just to yourself but to your friends. Keep an eye out for each other."

Macklin spoke about what can happen if symptoms are prolonged, including adverse effects to an individual’s gaze stabilization, which prevents dizziness when viewing a stationary object while the head is in motion, such as when driving. She explained physical therapists are able to treat this problem.

Although many athletes have a tendency to push through pain, this is not the time or place for it, she said.

Signs of a concussion include blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, among others, and signs that suggest the greatest severity, according to the presentation, are unresponsive pupils, seizures, and slurred speech.

Cieslak explained Teaneck High School’s protocol, which includes pre-season baseline testing to establish a measure to help determine if a concussion took place, player education, daily monitoring of athletes with a suspected concussion and sideline tests, and information distributed to parents.

Cieslak noted symptoms often show up in the classroom and include difficulty focusing for periods of time and with reading comprehension, and reported the athletic department worked with teachers to implement temporary modification of assignments for students who may be suffering from a concussion, in order to lessen any effects on academic performance.

While most concussions resolve in five days or less, according to Cieslak, some can take upwards of 30 days.

He also stressed there is no test in existence that can physically "see" a concussion; therefore, honest reporting of symptoms by the affected athlete is typically the most significant gauge. Cieslak urged students to let their parents, coach, and athletic trainer know if they experience concussion symptoms.

Cieslak noted although football has the highest documented rate of concussions, at Teaneck High School they have occurred most frequently in female athletes.

Also, the school has seen concussions in at least 10 different sports including fencing and in gym class, he said.

Dozens of community members turned out for the event, and students greatly outnumbered parents.

Sam Flowers, 17, who plays volleyball and swims at Teaneck High School, said she wanted to learn the causes of a concussion and how to prevent one.

Ariana Guevara, 16, also a volleyball player, said she attended because she wanted to learn how to spot a concussion in order to react faster to prevent it from worsening. Both students said they knew someone personally who had suffered from a concussion.