Over the last couple of years, concussion awareness has become more prominent in today's athletic society.
It all started a few years ago with examinations of deceased ex-football players' brains and the finding of deteriorations within them. Research then matriculated to boxers and hockey players, and now every major sport pays close attention to the cause and affect of head injuries.
Every athlete, or person for that matter, is susceptible to a concussion. With the recent studies about how much damage subsequent concussions can actually do to the human brain, everyone is under a watchful eye.
Concussion awareness has now reached home, as Tamaqua Area High School has become the first local high school to implicate concussion testing for its athletes.
"Concussions are definitely more visible in the news today," said Tamaqua Athletic Director Mike Hromyak. "Professional teams and colleges have become more aware and it has filtered down to us. I know the PIAA has begun talking about finding way to better protect our student athletes.
"You can never fully prevent a concussion, but this will certainly help with the diagnosis. The big question is when will the athlete be safe to return to competition? This testing process will help us determine that."
Tamaqua has joined with Coordinated Health and now runs the ImPACT test. ImPACT is a computerized exam utilized in many professional, collegiate and high school sports programs across the country to successfully diagnose and manage concussions. If an athlete is believed to have suffered a head injury during competition, ImPACT is used to help determine the severity of the head injury and when the injury has fully healed.
The computerized exam is given to athletes before practice or competition. The test is set up in a "video-game" type format and takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. Essentially, the ImPACT test is a preseason physical of the brain. It tracks information such as memory, reaction time, speed and concentration.
If a concussion is suspected, the athlete will be required to re-take the test. Both the preseason and post-injury test data is then given to a local doctor to help evaluate the injury. The data will help the health professional in determining when return-to-play is appropriate and safe for the injured athlete.
Pardon the pun, but implementing the test was a no-brainer for the Tamaqua school board. Especially once it learned that the testing would come free of charge.
"The school board had no issue in ratifying the testing," said Hromyak. "It was just a discussion item at first that our head trainer and I were going to bring up at a meeting. Once we figured out how it was going to work everybody was on board.
"Last year we were fortunate enough to run some tests free of charge. I thought it would be great to have again this year and tried to get the cost to be as little as possible. Now we are under contract with Coordinated Health and thanks to them we have it free of charge once again."
The contract will allow Tamaqua to test roughly 500 of its athletes. Testing will begin in early August for all varsity, junior varsity and junior high football players. Tamaqua will also test its boys and girls soccer players, along with its volleyball teams. Later it will test its winter athletes, and if there are enough tests remaining, its spring athletes.
Hromyak isn't sure if or when other local schools will follow in Tamaqua's footsteps, but he said it is definitely something that is on everybody's mind.
"It is something as athletic directors and coaches that we are all aware of," Hromyak said. "Everyone wants to make sure that they are doing the right thing for the kids. In the end a kid's health is far more important than winning a game."