More than 1,100 local high school girls suffered from concussions or concussion symptoms while playing extracurricular sports last year, according to a review of school health records by the News4 I-Team.
The number far surpasses the number of local high school football players who’ve suffered head injuries and it indicates school districts are responding to health concerns in a variety of popular after-school sports.
Public schools, some of which have recently deployed trainers to monitor games and practices, maintain databases on the number of students who are pulled from activities because of suspected head injuries. Though concussions are often associated with football – from high school level through the National Football League – local school district reports indicate head injuries are frequent among girls participating in soccer, field hockey and cheerleading.
Fairfax County Public Schools health records showed 107 high school girls were removed from district soccer teams with suspected concussions last year. The I-Team review found hundreds more soccer concussions combined in Montgomery County, Frederick County (Md), Prince William County, Anne Arundel County, Loudoun County and Arlington schools.
Ashley Toy, a senior at Tuscarora High School in Frederick, said she’s seen several fellow soccer players suffer concussions during games. Toy said, “Sometimes they blackout. It's really scary, honestly."
Field hockey and cheerleader concussions were also frequent in local school districts. Female athletes in Prince William County suffered almost 160 concussions or concussion symptoms last year, the I-Team found. In Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, almost 100 girls were pulled from games for head injury symptoms.
Athletes who suffer multiple concussions run the risk of severe or lingering injuries. Amelia Harmon, a senior field hockey player at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, suffered at least two concussions during her junior year. She was hospitalized after the first concussion, when her coach noticed Amelia was disoriented and unable to speak coherently. Harmon said, “I can’t hardly remember anything from the past year. I missed about a month of everything (at school). I had to drop my Advanced Placement courses.”
School districts said the large number of concussion reports listed in its health databases are an indication public schools are increasingly aware of the danger of concussions and quick to pull athletes who suffer even minor head symptoms.
“There’s no one simple test (for concussions), we use a whole box full of them,” Fairfax County Public Schools athletic director Bill Curran said. “There’s never an immediate return to play for students suspected to have a concussion. If there’s any sort of symptom, they’re out.” Curran said even an athlete who simply reports a headache would be required to enter a five-day long concussion protocol, requiring the student be removed from athletic activities.
Fairfax County schools now deploy full-time athletic trainers at each of its high schools. Montgomery County Public Schools have recently deployed more staff trainers to its schools as well, said the district’s athletic director Duke Beattie.
Dr. Jason DeLuigi, a sports medicine specialist at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., said girls playing lacrosse and synchronized swimming also suffer a large number of head injuries, including from kicks to the head by other participants. DeLuigi said, “Soccer has a high-rate of concussions for girls and boys, because they’re actually ‘heading’ the ball.”
DeLuigi said there’s no greater risk for concussions among girls. There’s no physiological differences that make girls more likely to suffer a head injury, DeLuigi said. But the large number of concussions among females is proof that head injuries are not limited to football players.