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Rugby Eligible for NCAA Concussion Screening

By Caleb Bissinger and Madeleine Thompson

Brett Williams 13 doesnt remember colliding with the defender from Washington University. The football teams starting running back doesnt even remember being on the field in St. Louis on Sept. 22 when he suffered the second concussion of his Kenyon career.

Immediately the trainers stick with you, and they make sure that youre not going to harm yourself or anyone else, Williams said. They took my helmet away so I wouldnt try to put it on and go back in the game, because I was really confused and I was trying to do that.

In the days that followed, trainers closely monitored Williams recovery and subjected him to a bevy of tests as part of the Colleges concussion protocol. Even after he was given permission to play again, the teams coaches kept a cautious eye on him. Even when I was totally 100 percent cleared, I was not allowed to play as much as I usually would, Williams said.

Liz Flynn 13, captain of the womens rugby team and former Kenyon field hockey player, said things work a little differently when a rugby player suffers a head injury. If theres any risk for a concussion, if youve hit your head, we pull you out, she said. But after that, its up to the student to self-monitor. You can go to the trainer and they can suggest [monitoring] to you, she said, but they cant make you come back, and you dont have a coach. Two womens rugby players sustained concussions this fall.

Next year, however, the protocol will change. Thanks to a new partnership with healthcare provider OhioHealth, the Athletics Department will offer baseline concussion testing to club athletes. The ImPACT tests, which have been administered to varsity athletes for the last three years, provide a standard of healthy reaction times for each athlete. If a student suffers a head injury, they can take the test again and cross-reference their results.

We still see a tremendous amount of concussions with rugby, and wed like to get them involved in this whole process early on, Director of Health Services Kim Cullers said. The goal is to include them in what we do for all athletes in terms of how were treating their concussions. We treat them the same as it is, but we just dont have that ImPACT testing, which would be really helpful to us as we see how they progress.

Before partnering with OhioHealth, the Athletics Department could only afford to offer the National Collegiate Athletic Association-mandated ImPACT tests to varsity athletes. Now, OhioHealth will cover the cost of ImPACT testing for club athletes as well. OhioHealth also provides seriously injured students with a physician within 24 hours.

According to Head Athletic Trainer Andy Wheeler, the partnership will make things real easy from a concussion standpoint. We still use the same protocol, but now we have one physician seeing them from the beginning to the end as opposed to potentially having multiple physicians see them throughout the process, Wheeler said.

The new relationship with OhioHealth is another piece in the Colleges comprehensive approach to head injuries. In addition to medical treatment, student-athletes dealing with concussions also receive academic dispensations.

These accommodation options for the recovery period include extending time for tests to include time for breaks, using text-to-speech technology for class readings and pushing assignment deadlines. According to Erin Salva, coordinator of disability services, 48 hours of recovery is normal for mild to moderate first-time concussions. Its based on self-reporting of symptoms. The recommendation is rest, she said. If youre back too early either to academics or to play, youre putting yourself in pretty grave harm for further damage.

Still, the communication system isnt perfect. I think the one piece were still missing, the final piece: we dont always know when the player is released to play again, Cullers said. And sometimes theres questions from professors like, if theyre released to play their sport, does that mean I can stop giving them accommodations in the classroom?

Student-athletes are typically eager to get back on the playing field, but they must be cleared to resume regular class work before doing so. [Concussions] can lead to long-term problems if you hit your head again, Cullers said. It may put you out for a full semester. And those are really hard conversations to have, because students dont want to quit their sport, but they want to be successful academically, so its a … fine line.

All things considered, Flynn is grateful that Kenyon and OhioHealth will be more attentive to rugby players. Im not asking to have my laundry done by the KAC, she said, but I would ask that health which seems like something that should be important for everyone, was something that they took care of.

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