Concussion law passed in Connecticut

When in doubt, sit it out.

That’s the gist of a new state law which will go into effect during this school year.

The statute, Public Act 10-62, “An Act Concerning Student Athletes and Concussions, requires anyone who has a coaching permit from the state Board of Education and coaches intramural or interscholastic sports to complete a training course related to recognizing signs and symptoms of concussions, the appropriate medical management of concussions, and the medical risks associated with head injuries.

The law defines the symptoms of a concussion as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or balance problems, confusion, memory problems, irritability, concentration problems, mood or personality changes, sensitivity to light or noise, drowsiness and loss of consciousness.

It also states that coaches will now be required to remove from play any athlete who exhibits signs or symptoms of a concussion. That athlete will not be permitted to return to play until he or she has received written medical clearance from a qualified medical provider.

The law will go into effect at Naugatuck and Woodland Regional High School as well as all local middle schools for the coming fall sports seasons. All coaches will be required to take a three-hour course to obtain their concussion training and attend a yearly refresher course to review new subject matter. The state Department of Education can revoke a coach’s permit if it finds, after due process, the coach was not following the law’s guidelines.

Connecticut is one of the first states in the nation to adopt a concussions law, following Oregon and Washington, who implemented similar statutes in 2009. The law is in place to prevent student-athletes from participating in games after suffering head injuries.

Legislators hoped to address a glaring statistic from a study by the Brain Injury Association of America and the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention: 40.5% of athletes who suffer concussions return to play before it is safe to do so.

“I’ve suffered a concussion before; we used to refer to is as getting your bell rung,” said state Sen. Thomas Gaffey (D-Meriden), Chairman of the Education Committee. “Well, it’s much more than that, because we now know if a student-athlete suffers a concussion and goes back into play too soon, the brain can really suffer a serious injury if they suffer a second concussion or head injury. This is to protect student athletes across the state, and I couldn’t be happier it’s been passed.”

The rate of head injuries has risen substantially in the past decade. Nationwide, 400,000 concussions were recorded during the 2009-10 school year.

“Head injuries are increasingly common and provide a growing area of concern because of the unforeseen and often continuing effects of head injuries,” state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said. “All sports, both boys and girls, are seeing increased numbers of head injuries, so it is important to build in more training in terms of recognizing head injuries and require that students be kept out of participation in the event of these injuries.”

Senator Joseph Crisco (D-Woodbridge), who represents Naugatuck, said he, like Gaffey, suffered a concussion in his football days playing at both Wilber Cross High School and the University of Connecticut, jokingly adding that sustaining a concussion is now apparently a prerequisite for serving in the state senate. He added the issue of head injuries is no joking matter and needs to be addressed.

“Our athletes these days are so much bigger and faster and play with a higher intensity, so that risk is always there,” Crisco said. “This is something that needed to be addressed and publicized. It’s really so important that we handle this right. The prevention and awareness of this particular injury is vital.”

Over 6,000 coaches in the state had undergone concussion training as of last week.