Among the many advances in head injury science in recent years are improved helmets. The helmet on the left is a one-year-old model used by the Moffat County High School football team. The one on the right is about five years old.

Photo by Nate Waggenspack

Among the many advances in head injury science in recent years are improved helmets. The helmet on the left is a one-year-old model used by the Moffat County High School football team. The one on the right is about five years old.

Moffat County working to improve brain injury education

— Of the many issues in sports today, brain injuries are among the most discussed, and in Moffat County, they are a very real and present problem.

“It’s a very big issue,” Moffat County School District psychologist Teresa Laster said. “We try to educate everybody on what a traumatic brain injury is so we can better deal with them.”

Laster is part of the Colorado Youth Brain Injury Connections Committee, a group that has worked to increase education and awareness about brain injuries in youth sports.

The frequency at which they occur has become widely known only recently, in part because of a law passed in Colorado in 2011 after a brain injury-related death.

Jake Snakenberg, a freshman at Grandview High School in 2004, died from a second impact after suffering a concussion a week before. In 2011, the Jake Snakenberg Youth Sports Concussion Act was signed into law to help increase research, awareness and education about brain injuries.

In Moffat County, grants awarded the past three years by the Colorado Brain Injury Program have funded new helmets and increased education, all with the goal of improving the way with which brain injuries are dealt.

“We’ve trained coaches, staff, administrators and try to work with everybody involved with the kid when there’s a concussion,” Laster said. “If a kid gets a concussion during any activity, coaches have to report it to our nurses.”

The 2012-13 school year has been Laster’s first tracking concussion numbers in the schools. As of January, she said about 15 had occurred at the high school, with 10 more coming from middle and elementary school students.

Many of the concussions came from the high school football team, Laster said. Football head coach Kip Hafey knows it is a big issue and said he and his staff take head injuries seriously.

“If any kid gets a concussion, they have to come out, and they’re done until they get cleared by a medical professional,” Hafey said. “No practice, no pads, no games, until they’re OK from a medical professional.”

Hafey has been a high school coach for almost 20 years and has seen the landscape change throughout that time. The Colorado High School Activities Association instituted mandatory concussion tests in all sports to increase awareness of when an athlete might have suffered an injury.

“No. 1 is teaching identification” of an injury, Hafey said. “A lot of people think having a concussion comes from a big-time hit. It’s not always that way. You want to be able to recognize that.”

Laster said athletes who suffer a concussion are taken out of school and must be cleared by a doctor before returning to the classroom or athletics. Some students are kept out for months, she said, while others can return in a couple days.

Of course, in a system still in its infant years, not every case goes smoothly. MCHS junior Brayden Peterson suffered a concussion during the final game of the football season but stayed in the game because coaches could not tell what had happened from the sideline.

“I remember I had a warm, tingly feeling through my body and felt a little numb,” Peterson said about the incident. “I got up and was confused. I try to think of the game and only remember bits and pieces.”

Peterson said he went to school the following Monday and had severe pain in his head whenever he was met with stress or heightened activity. He was convinced by Hafey to see a doctor, he said.

Peterson took a concussion test at the doctor’s office and was found to have a fairly severe one. He wasn’t allowed to take tests or participate in physical education class. He also was told he would miss the start of the wrestling season.

This is one of the little-known factors with brain injuries, Laster said: Resting the brain involves more than time away from the field or court.

“You have to rest, and it has to be a total rest,” she said. “No watching TV, talking on the phone, video games. A lot of people would think that is restful, and it’s not. The brain is still working.”

Peterson said he would have liked to return to wrestling sooner than he was allowed but admitted it probably was for the best.

“My head still hurt when my heart rate was up after awhile,” he said. “It took a week after the first tournament to get rid of that. So I think it was a good idea for me not to (wrestle), even though I tried to get back into it. It was a good process they had, I thought.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com.

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