Concussion Center helps high school athletes play it safe


Catherine Vick back-spotted a flyer in cheer practice last fall when she felt the girl’s elbow strike her head … once, twice, three times and again in the very same spot.

She didn’t realize it then, but she had a concussion. Her first reaction was to play it down, shake it off.

“I’m like, it’s nothing. But then as the days kept on going, the headaches were worse,” said Vick, a 10th-grader at Paw Paw High School in southwest Michigan. “My head was constantly hurting, but it was the start of the season, so I was like, ‘I don’t want to be out, so I’m not going to mention anything until about a week after it happened if it’s still hurting.'”

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After a week, Vick told her coaches, who started her on a concussion protocol. That meant daily check-ins from her coaches, making sure she was drinking enough water and eating right, and modifying her workouts until she was fully recovered.

“My coaches were really great about it,” she said.

Vick’s coaches earned the Michigan Sports-Related Concussion Training Certificate, developed by the University of Michigan Concussion Center to satisfy a state-mandated requirement for concussion training for all coaches and volunteers working with Michigan High School Athletic Association athletes.

Stefanie Miller, Paw Paw High School math teacher and cheerleading coach, with cheerleaders
Stefanie Miller, Paw Paw High School math teacher and cheerleading coach, who has been involved in cheerleading since she was in middle school, said when she started “concussion wasn’t a word that anybody ever really said.” (Photo by Erin Kirkland, Michigan Photography)

The training course provides practical, up-to-date concussion knowledge for athletes, parents, coaches and others involved in youth sports.

U-M research found that 1 in 4 adolescents self-reported at least one concussion in 2020, up from about 20% in 2016. During that same period, youths who reported one concussion rose from roughly 14% to 18%, and those who reported at least two concussions increased from about 6% to 7%.

Steven Broglio, director of the U-M Concussion Center, said the partnership with the MHSAA started five years ago to help erase some of the misinformation about concussions, with the ultimate goal of protecting athlete health and well-being.

“There’s still a lot of misinformation around concussion — what the signs and symptoms are, how to best manage the injury,” said Broglio, who also is a professor of kinesiology in the School of Kinesiology, and adjunct professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and of neurology in the Medical School.

Steven Broglio

“And so we feel that we’re filling the need within the state of informing athletes and informing parents, coaches and administrators of what those are — how to seek help, where to get treatment. And then put them on the right path so that they can get back to the things that they love to do the most.”

Broglio said that as many as 10% of high school athletes will sustain a concussion during their time as an athlete.

“Athletes in contact and collision sports such as football or ice hockey are most at risk, but we see almost identical numbers in women’s soccer and other contact sports that our female athletes are playing,” he said.

Stefanie Miller, Paw Paw High School math teacher and cheerleading coach, has been involved in cheerleading since she was in middle school. Back then, “concussion wasn’t a word that anybody ever really said.”

In the past 10 years, however, concussions have been taken more seriously.

“I feel like the whole ‘getting your bell rung’ is not a thing anymore, which is great,” she said.

This video explores how the U-M Concussion Center helps high school coaches protect athletes.

Miller said the concussion training and protocols provided by the MHSAA and the Concussion Center have helped coaches, parents and students understand what happens when injuries occur around the head and neck. With this information, parents can help look for the signs of a concussion in cases when the student doesn’t inform the coaches.

“I think that the fact that the MHSAA is using the University of Michigan’s research to guide them in their protocol is phenomenal,” she said. “I think it validates what we’re required to do. And I think people take it more seriously because it’s research based.”

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said that connecting with the Concussion Center has given the organization the expertise it needed.

“We’re not medical experts, so working inside of our own silo when it came to concussion wasn’t going to be as effective as it needed to be,” he said. “We know what we’re good at and that’s building up the systems to communicate with 750 member high schools in our state.

“We needed to find experts in the field of concussion. And that’s why the relationship with the University of Michigan’s Concussion Center has literally been a home run for us.”

Andrew Pratley, assistant principal and head football coach at St. Joseph High School in southwest Michigan, said the training and increased awareness around concussions has changed mindsets and made games safer than ever as risks are minimized.

“Certainly anyone that’s on our sidelines and recognizes those symptoms knows it’s not OK to put a kid back in until they’re cleared by a doctor,” he said. “So I think all of those things are really beneficial to the game and beneficial to our student athletes, which is really the most important.”

Athletes in contact and collision sports are most at risk for concussions. These are training helmets worn by St. Joseph High School football players. (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)

Catherine Vick’s father, John, who is a physician assistant and former athletic trainer, said the protocol followed for her concussion was great. Because of his medical training, he was able to do a concussion assessment when Catherine’s headache didn’t go away.

He sent her to the team’s athletic trainer, who stopped her training with the cheer team and started monitoring her symptoms daily. While concussion recovery varies by person, Catherine’s persisted for six weeks and then she was eased back into her routines going to school for half days.

Her symptoms subsided after winter break and she was able to get back to training and participated without injury for the rest of the season.

“I thought it was handled absolutely appropriately, not only from a parent perspective, but also from a medical professional perspective,” John Vick said.


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