High School Sports

Report: Concussion rates nearly twice as high for high school vs. college football players

Blue Springs football coach Kelly Donohoe says there are so many concussion studies out right now, he doesn’t even know what to believe anymore.

“Every study I see is different,” Donohoe said. “I think it is going to be years before we really know the truth on some of this stuff. Everyone is jumping to it and everyone is alarmed, as they should be.”

The latest of those reports was released Wednesday by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. It shows high school football players are sustaining concussions at a rate of 11.2 per 10,000 “athlete exposures,” nearly twice the rate as college players, and says young athletes could face a “culture of resistance” to reporting head injuries.

The report found college athletes had higher overall rates of concussions than did high school players — 4.3 versus 2.3 per 10,000 “athletic exposures,” defined as a game or practice — in nine sports during 2005-06.

But the more recent data found high school football players suffer concussions at a rate of 11.2 per 10,000 “athletic exposures” compared with 6.3 for college football players. The data for high school concussions was limited, however, starting with 25 schools in 2010-11 and increasing to more than 100 this academic year.

Kearney football coach Greg Jones pointed to differences in talent and technical soundness as possible causes of the higher number of high school instances, but said no one takes concussions lightly.

“I think that three or four years ago, maybe, but not now,” Jones said. “It’s not worth taking a chance on it. You have to protect the kids.”

As for the “culture of resistance,” Donohoe said it might affect the athletes, but the coaches are far beyond that.

“There’s always going to be a group of players that don’t want anybody to know, but you aren’t going to see a group of coaches trying to hide it unless they’re just idiots,” Donohoe said.

The committee that issued the report called for a national surveillance system to improve data collection on youth sports concussions. It also recommended that changes in the brains of youths following concussions, long-term consequences and effects over time and effectiveness of sports rules and playing practices in reducing concussions should be further researched.

“The findings of our report justify the concerns about sports concussions in young people,” said Robert Graham, chairman of the committee. “However, there are numerous areas in which we need more and better data. Until we have that information, we urge parents, schools, athletic departments, and the public to examine carefully what we do know, as with any decision regarding risk, so they can make more informed decisions about young athletes playing sports.”

The report also found no evidence that current helmet designs, mouthguards or facial protection, such as facemasks worn in ice hockey, reduce concussion risk. It also found limited evidence that concussion education programs change behavior toward head injuries, although they have been shown to be effective in increasing concussion knowledge and awareness.

“Despite increased knowledge about concussions … there is still a culture among athletes and military personnel that resists both the self-reporting of concussions and compliance with appropriate concussion management plans,” the report read. “In surveys, youth profess that the game and the team are more important than their individual health and that they may play through a concussion to avoid letting down their teammates, coaches, schools and parents.”