Mount Greylock Director of Athletics Lyndsey von Holtz addresses the School Committee.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday reviewed the school's concussion policy and some historical data about head injuries among the student body.
The school's director of athletics and co-curricular activities explained the policy, which was up for a standard biennial review.
Lindsey von Holtz also shared data she has compiled about the instance of head injuries at the school — whether on the playing field or not.
The Mount Greylock policy, which is centered on a Graduated Return to Play Protocol and includes accommodations for students recovering from head injury, applies to all students, however they are injured.
"The main difference [with the state mandate] is we put every Mount Greylock student into the policy, not just the athletes," von Holtz said. "It's required for the athletes, but we do the same thing for non-athletes as well … a student who falls while skiing or falls walking down their driveway on the ice, we still take care of them."
That said, head injuries are a main point of emphasis in the athletic program, where students receive baseline testing every two years and students and parents receive education about the dangers of head injuries.
"My big thing is: Education is the most important part," von Holtz said. "There are parents who have no idea what could happen. We have parents who say, 'They'll be fine. I was hit in the head all the time when I was a kid,' and parents who say that this is a big deal."
But there continues to be medical research that finds the long-term effects of concussion can be more severe than previously understood, von Holtz said.
There also is research about how to help concussion sufferers to recover. That is where the protocol comes into play. Von Holtz explained how a student who has been injured is systematically reexamined and needs to reach certain milestones on the road to recovery.
"Once you're asymptomatic without activity, you can start light activity, then running ... ," she explained, referring to the protocol developed by the Sports Concussion Institute. "It's a gradual step-by-step return.
"With most of our concussions, the student is out for one to two months."
In the academic year ending this month, Mount Greylock students have reported 38 head injuries, including 24 diagnosed concussions. Of those concussions, 10 were linked to interscholastic athletics, six happened during physical education, one was a non-sports accident on school grounds and seven occurred outside of school activities, von Holtz reported. That number of 24 concussions was down from 35 the year before and a peak of 48 in the 2014-15 academic year, one of the five years covered in her statistics.
The concussions were spread out among the "contact" sports at the school, according to von Holtz's presentation. Soccer, football and lacrosse were the sports with the most incidences of concussion in that order, although her numbers did not correlate to participation rates; far more students participate in boys and girls soccer combined than do in football.
The latter sport, football, has been the focus of the concussion discussion nationally in recent years, with allegations that the National Football League historically has underemphasized the danger of head trauma and underreported the injury rate in the game.
At the high school level, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has reduced the number of "contact" practices before and during the season and increased the length of the preseason to allow more non-contact drills, von Holtz said. Mount Greylock football coach Andrew Agostini has players using padded "caps" on their helmets during practice.
School Committee member Wendy Penner thanked von Holtz for the data and pressed her to continue the education process among students and families, particularly in light of data presented to the committee last year by Williamstown resident Dr. Nicholas Wright.
Penner also said more data is needed about the future effects of concussions on members of the Mount Greylock community.
"What concerns me is the potential long-term impact," Penner said. "I think it's important to have some awareness of what the experiences of our young people are long-term.
"I want to reinforce that we continue to track the data," she added later in the discussion. "Even though it's not part of the policy, it is very important."
It also made plans for an Aug. 23 retreat. The afternoon session will allow the committee to look at some "big picture" topics outside the context of its regular monthly business. Among the items on the agenda are a presentation from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees about protocols and procedures and a discussion of Mount Greylock School Committee goals for the 2017-18 academic year.
Also, Carolyn Greene, the vice chairwoman of the committee, opened Tuesday's meeting by reading a statement from John Hockridge of the North Adams School Committee and the Berkshire County Education Task Force on the passing of state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams.
Hockridge noted Cariddi's advocacy on behalf of the task force and her care and concern for the community and its kids.
Greene added that Cariddi was "always a big supporter of Mount Greylock and the building project and will be dearly missed."
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