Concussions plague Trinity athletes; impact academics

It was Oct. 29, 2011, and New England’s top Division III football player, co-captain, and senior linebacker, Walter Fallas, was stopping one play after another in a game against Middlebury College. At some point during the game, presumably when he was hit by a receiver in the crossing route, he was concussed. He did not immediately experience any concussion-like symptoms until the very next morning, however, having helped lead Trinity to a 42-7 victory. He was out for a week and had to miss the biggest game of the season against Amherst College. The Bantams experienced a devastating defeat, the first since the second game of the previous season-handing over a perfect seasonal record to Amherst. But a week later, fully recovered, Fallas played the last game of his college career against Wesleyan University, contributing to a 27-0 shutout, ending the Trinity season with a 7-1 record.
Four years later, the exact play in which Fallas received his concussion during the Middlebury game is still a mystery. There was never a moment in which Fallas was noticeably hit very hard. Although it is widely believed that concussions occur only when an athlete is violently hit, especially on the head, a concussion can also be received by a knock or bump to the body that results in the brain temporarily losing its normal function. “Every individual has different abilities to absorb forces. Depending on sport, coaching, technique, or form, each person learns ways to better prevent the injury,” said Associate Athletic Trainer Nicholas Van Vught.
It is important that an athlete recognizes the signs of a concussion as soon as possible during a game. On rare occasions, it could take days for concussion symptoms to appear. “It is very dangerous to continue to play with a concussion. If a second concussive force is taken by the athlete, before complete recovery from the previous injury, it could have catastrophic effects, known as Second-Impact Syndrome,” said Van Vught. Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS) can result in rapid and potentially fatal brain swelling.
Although SIS is rare, the probability of receiving another concussion after recovering from the last one is high. According to the NCAA 2011-2012 Sports Medicine Handbook, “In the years 2004 to 2009, the rate of concussion during games per 1,000 athlete exposures for football was 3.1; for men’s lacrosse, 2.6; for men’s ice hockey, 2.4; for women’s ice hockey, 2.2; for women’s soccer, 2.2; for wrestling, 1.4; for men’s soccer, 1.4; for women’s lacrosse, 1.2; for field hockey, 1.2; for women’s basketball, 1.2; and for men’s basketball, 0.6.” However, the amount of concussions one receives is not as important as the severity and the length of recovery. “If an athlete reports to Trinity with a history of concussions we make sure they understand what the medical community knows and understands to be true at this point. If an athlete had a lengthy recovery we would request medical documentation from the physicians or specialist that the athlete had seen previously. Our team physician has the authority to medically disqualify an athlete,” said Head Athletic Trainer Justin LeDuc.
In addition to reporting their concussion history, before a varsity athlete enters Trinity, they must watch an NCAA educational video, fill out paper work, and sign a form aknowledging that they understand the risks of concussions. “I think the school has done a good job educating us, the student athletes, about concussions,” said track runner, Abby Alardi ’19. “The most important thing we can do is educate athletes.”
“Our strength and conditioning coach has begun a neck strengthening program that may help limit the number of concussions caused by a whiplash type injury,” said LeDuc. Four years ago, the Concussion Management Plan was put into place, which stipulated that athletes can be given Baseline Tests containing the Impact Computerized Neuro Cognitive Assessment and the Balance Error Scoring System. From there, the athletes are given a recovery time and are then gradually eased back into their sport through a team-specific protocol.
Although it is normally high impact sports, such as football and soccer, that report the largest number of concussions, all students are at risk of receiving a concussion by doing anything, even something as innocuous as falling. “Unlike other injuries, you can’t physically see if someone has a concussion,” said twice-concussed former high school field hockey player, Kenzie Levy ’18, “A concussion is not like a broken bone that needs a cast: you just have to believe that it’s there and that the person who has one is being affected by it.”

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