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Test could keep injured athletes from returning too soon

The assessment helps to determine if an athlete has recovered from the effects of a bad bump to the head.

October 10, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Laguna Beach High School head athletics trainer Ron Holaday demonstrates the department's new concussion monitor system, the ImPACT test.
Laguna Beach High School head athletics trainer Ron Holaday… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

Laguna Beach High School athletic officials have another tool to gauge whether an athlete is ready to return to the game after a hit to the head.

For the first time, students in all sports, including dance team members, will take a computer test to assess mental capabilities such as concentration, memory and reaction time. Each athlete will receive a baseline reading, which can then be used to compare test results following a concussion.

Laguna Beach High trainer Ron Holaday helped test about 260 athletes before the fall sports season. He said athletes in winter and spring sports will also be tested before their seasons unless they took the test for a fall sport. About 500 to 600 athletes will take the test.

Players need only take the baseline test once, and it can be used throughout their high school careers, Holaday said. Laguna Beach Unified School District nurse Pam Mjad also administers the tests, a district release said.

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Following a head injury, athletes answer a series of questions on the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), a test used by multiple organizations, including Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League and more than 7,400 high schools, according to ImPACT's website.

Laguna Beach High athletic director Mike Churchill first heard about the test in March from Kathy Smith-Coakley, a certified trainer who has a son on Laguna's varsity football team and owns COASTherapy in Huntington Beach, he said. The program costs a one-time charge of nearly $2,000, and was donated, he said.

In the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, all four high schools are using the ImPACT test, said Mike Zimmerman, Newport Harbor High athletic director.

One ImPACT test exercise requires the student to remember the words flashed on a screen, or to identify which squiggly lined designs appeared.

Other test sections ask athletes to rate their dizziness, nausea, fatigue or headache on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the most severe.

Holaday sends test results to David Kruse, a certified sports medicine physician, who gauges whether an athlete can return to play. State law and the rules of the California Interscholastic Federation — the high school sports governing body — require that an athlete be cleared by a physician trained in concussion management, Kruse said in an email.

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