New York State School Boards Association

Like pro athletes, Rocky Point players take pre-season cognitive test

On Board Online • September 19, 2011

By Brian M. Butry
Communications Coordinator

Student athletes in Long Island’s Rocky Point School District now have something in common with every player in the National Hockey League – they are being tested with the most innovative concussion evaluation system on the market.

The Suffolk County district has partnered with Long Island’s Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson to assist team physicians and athletic trainers in evaluating and treating head injuries.

The district is taking part in a grant through the hospital to implement a software tool called ImPACT – Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, a system used by the entire NHL and several pro baseball and football teams, including the New York Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets.

In fact, ImPACT is the most widely used computer-based testing program in the world and is implemented effectively across high school, collegiate, and professional levels of sports participation.

“We are excited to implement this program, given that it provides us a cutting-edge tool and the best available information for managing concussions and preventing potential brain damage that can occur with multiple concussions,” said Amy Agnesini, Rocky Point’s director of health, physical education, athletics and intramurals.

This summer, prior to their initial practices or games, 300 student athletes from Rocky Point were given the 20-minute computerized exam to help develop an individualized baseline cognitive report.

The test is described as “a preseason physical of the brain.” It measures the athlete’s memory, reaction time, speed, and concentration. It can be administered by an athletic trainer, school nurse, athletic director, team coach, team doctor, or anyone trained to administer baseline testing. The tests are non-invasive and pose no risks to the student.

For too long, experts say, physicians, coaches, parents and students had no way of determining how severe the injury was and when the injured player has healed. The ImPACT test changes that.

During a follow-up appointment, students are required to retake the test and doctors then compare preseason and post-injury data to determine when a return to competition is appropriate and safe for the injured athlete.

Agnesini said through the grant, concussion specialists are on-call at St. Charles Hospital around the clock, seven days a week, in case a student-athlete sustains a head injury or is suspected of suffering a concussion.

Concussions are caused by a blow to the head or when the upper body is violently shaken. The injury is usually temporary, but can include problems with headache, concentration, memory, judgment, balance and coordination, according to the Mayo Clinic. Due to the nature of the injury, athletes need time to rest and heal.

Earlier this year, legislation was passed by the New York State Senate and Assembly that requires student athletes suspected of suffering concussions to be immediately pulled from a sporting event and kept on the sidelines for at least 24 hours until cleared by a physician.

It also calls on the State Education Department to devise guidelines, in consultation with the state Health Department, for schools to follow for students who suffer concussions during interscholastic games, school intramural programs and gym class.

At press time, the bill was on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo awaiting signature into law.

“A concussion is more than a bump on the head and can have serious consequences,” said Judith Avner, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New York State. “An undiagnosed concussion can affect a student’s abilities at school and in everyday activities.”

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