Section: archive

Student Concussion Policy to Change

By Grace Hitzeman and Lili Martinez

Autumn Anderson ’14, a post player on the women’s basketball team, didn’t immediately notice anything unusual after a teammate’s elbow hit her head, hard, during a practice in early February. “I became a little bit disoriented when it first happened, but I thought I had just been hit in the head and it was just going to be painful for a bit,” she said.

She continued to practice until her teammates noticed she couldn’t answer their questions. “I had no idea what [my teammates] were saying and they were like, ‘I think you have a concussion,’ so they called the trainer,” Anderson said.

Anderson isn’t the first or only student to suffer a concussion this year. On average, athletes have reported between seven and 10 concussions per year for the last five years. Andrew Wheeler, the head athletic trainer for the College, estimated that the Lords football team reports between three and five concussions a year, which he said is close to the Division III average. The women’s soccer team and the men’s swim team each had at least one concussion this year. The women’s basketball team reported three concussions, two of them within three days of each other.

One way the College works to identify and treat concussions is through the imPACT test. Since 2007, when Wheeler arrived at Kenyon, incoming first-year athletes have been required to take a baseline test, called the imPACT test, before they begin play. “This provides us the opportunity to compare their memory skills and reaction time under normal conditions to post concussive,” Wheeler said.

Currently, club athletes and intramural athletes do not have to take the baseline test. In light of this disparity, Wheeler, Kim Cullers, the director of the Health Center, and Grant Wallace, the director of Club and Intramural Sports, have been discussing baseline testing for all club athletes, including, but not limited to, rugby and ultimate frisbee, in the 2012-13 school year.

The proposed testing policy highlights an important disparity in the way concussions are reported and treated for varsity athletes versus club athletes. “Club sports are a little bit different,” Cullers said. “… Although they have access to the trainers, the trainers’ focus for most injuries is on collegiate athletes who are participating in collegiate-sponsored sports. [Club sport] injuries seem to be less clear because there’s not usually someone on a sideline that accesses them right away. They are usually assessed by a coach or fellow player.”

Educating Athletes About Concussions

Like many athletes in both club and varsity sports, Anderson wasn’t immediately able to identify the symptoms of her concussion. She wasn’t sure if she had ever had a concussion before because “no one ever told us, ‘These are the symptoms you’ll experience,'” she said. Many Kenyon athletes feel the same way – education about concussions varies greatly among the College’s varsity and even club sports.

Jonathan Amador ’15, a guard on the men’s basketball team, said if his coach talked to the team about concussions, he does not remember the conversation. Daniel Kipp ’14, a member of the ultimate frisbee team, said he was never told the signs of a concussion. Others are similarly unsure of the symptoms.

To address this issue, faculty and staff have made efforts to implement new policies and develop better systems for assessing athletes’ injuries during games, especially with regard to concussions.

Hiding Concussions to Avoid the Bench

Athletes at Kenyon are not encouraged to hide concussions, but some say they would rather play through the pain than risk being benched. Dan Shannon ’13 said he has seen players try to mask concussions during a game, but “I’ve never seen anyone go back out there for longer than a couple plays when they think they’ve had a concussion – just because they’re not right or something.”

Still, attitudes on the subject vary on the football team. “I wouldn’t say that guys don’t support [players with concussions], but it is at times questioned a little bit,” Shannon said. “I don’t think that’s a good thing, but it definitely does exist. The guys will be like, ‘Oh, he got a concussion. How did he get it? When did he get it?’ instead of taking it more seriously.”

Quarterback Brian Thorne ’12, on the other hand, believes the team handles concussions well. “There are actually some guys who got a concussion and maybe people who I didn’t think would go to the trainer and admit that they had a concussion, they did. I don’t think anyone tried to hide it.”

Kevin Zhang ’15, who is a member of the ultimate frisbee team, said he “absolutely” believes that “if [players] want playing time they’d hide a concussion. Just to try to help the team win.” He said he probably wouldn’t mask a concussion “because … it could potentially get worse and I would take myself off the field because I would not be helping my teammates with a concussion.”

Lianne Castile ’13, a midfielder on the Ladies soccer team, doesn’t think it would be easy to play through such a serious injury.

“The way the sports are set up is that you can’t exactly hide [a concussion] unless it happens in practice,” she said. “Even then, I think it’d be hard because if you’re in a drill your coaches are watching, but I don’t think [masking concussions] is such a big problem here as it is at other places. It’s a good system to have just because the more concussions you have the more likely you are to get a concussion and the more severe they can be.”

Returning to Academics

While the College has a clear policy outlined for athletes who return to sports after a concussion, going back to academics can be more difficult.

Anderson, for example, experienced concussion symptoms for a week after her concussion, but even after the symptoms subsided, she had difficulty looking at her cell phone and computer screens. She also postponed several tests and papers because she had trouble reading.

Problems like these prompted discussions among faculty, the dean of students, the Health Center staff, the medical director and athletic trainers to consider how best to help those students and student athletes inflicted with concussions, according to Cullers. It often falls on the Health Center to help students transition into academic life after a concussion. “Going back to class might be slightly harder than going back to sports because it requires so much focus, so much concentration, extended hours of reading, extended hours of paying attention – you’re dealing with this headache all the time,” Cullers said.

Cullers warned that the problem can affect students on and off the athletic rosters. Any type of injury can cause a concussion. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct blow to the head,” Cullers said. “It can be from a fall where your head almost hits the ground or where your neck is thrown violently. So it’s any kind of trauma within the brain cavity.”

Cullers said the signs of a concussion are difficult to see because “concussions are very complex and that’s why the treatment of them is so varied and different for every person. [The symptoms] can range anywhere from loss of consciousness, seizure activity, loss of memory after the event, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, or any combination of those symptoms. It is generally characterized by characteristics after the injury such as difficulty concentrating, headaches, dizziness, visual problems, fatigue, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much [and] decreased appetite,” she said.

[starbox id=”admin”]


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at