By SCOTT LAUBE
Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK – Baseline testing of athletes – a diagnosis tool for concussions – was put in place in Montgomery County Public Schools this school year with the screening of 10,250 student-athletes participating in all sports across the district’s high schools.
Jeff Sullivan, athletics specialist for the school system, called the tests “invaluable,” but some say it’s not yet clear if the tests have helped medical personnel to spot concussions in students whose head injuries may have otherwise been missed.
“It is difficult to say if concussions have decreased [or increased] in quantity, because we now have a reporting system in place that did not exist before,” said Wheaton High School Athletic Director Maura Ryan.
What is clear, Ryan said, is that concussion awareness, at least at her school, has increased dramatically.
“I can say with certainty … that concussions are now being correctly diagnosed, and no student-athlete is allowed back on the field until they are cleared by the baseline testing and our doctors,” Ryan said.
The test used in Montgomery County – the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) – provides a baseline reading of a student-athlete’s performance in areas such as memory and reaction time. All athletes are given the test before they start practice, Sullivan said, and then again after a suspected concussion. Results from the second test are compared to the baseline test to assist medical professionals in diagnosing concussions, he said.
In order to implement baseline testing, Sullivan said the county entered into contracts last June with local health care vendors — MedStar, Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital of Maryland, ATI Physical Therapy and Metro Orthopedics and Sports Therapy — and is spending $99,140 to administer the testing in all 25 of its high schools.
“Our medical vendors are critical to the success of ImPACT testing, because they are responsible for deciphering the coding and results of the test,” Sullivan said. “The testing would be useless if they weren’t here to examine the results, as they are the ones who ultimately give the final clearance of concussed athletes.”
The school system has “every intention” of continuing the tests in the future, Sullivan said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 300,000 high school athletes in the U.S. suffer sports- and recreation-related head injuries of mild to moderate severity each year, with most being classified as concussions.
Vince McKinnon, a Montgomery County resident and high school football referee, said baseline testing is a step in the right direction, but that it’s also vital that school districts across Maryland, including Montgomery, have athletic trainers available at practices and games to help spot and treat injuries.
“I realize it’s an obstacle financially,” but the fact that many counties in Maryland do not employ athletic trainers “is mind boggling,” McKinnon said.
Montgomery County began employing part-time athletic trainers in some of its high schools for the first time this school year.
Statewide, about 61 percent of Maryland’s high schools employ athletic trainers, the National Athletic Trainers Association estimates. That number is low compared to surrounding states such as Delaware (96 percent), Pennsylvania (96 percent), Virginia (87 percent) and West Virginia (85 percent).
Capital News Service reporter Ashley Westerman contributed to this report.