necn Investigates: Somerville, Mass. Hopes to Become Blueprint in Battle Against Concussions

A Massachusetts city is working to become the blueprint for the rest of the country in the battle against the growing number of kids suffering concussions.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation is working with Somerville to create a model city for youth sports safety. It is an important move after a report on concussion diagnoses from Blue Cross and Blue Shield shows more kids age 10 through 19 are diagnosed with concussions in Massachusetts than any other state. Also, kids that age are five times more likely to be diagnosed with a concussion than all other age groups combined.

At West Somerville Neighborhood School, students from fifth to eighth grade fill the cafeteria for a life lesson.

"Has anyone here had a concussion?" Cliff Robbins from Concussion Legacy Foundation asked the group.

Dozens of hands went up.

He showed a video of kids their age playing football. As the helmets crashed, every student groaned and looked away.

The Boston-based foundation not only talked about signs and symptoms of concussion, but also showed kids what a concussion looks like. He tossed a ball to a student who easily caught it and then tossed it back. Then he repeated the test, only this time, the student was wearing concussion goggles that mimic the symptoms of a concussion.

They boy missed and stumbled.

"I suffered concussions," admitted Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.

That's why he and the foundation have launched a three-year partnership. Curtatone recalls that after a concussion, he would return quickly to the game — too quickly.

"Experiences like mine are far too common, and what is even more worrisome is how common they still are today in youth sports," he recalled.

Guided by the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Somerville will help create best practices to be shared with other cities for concussion education, policy and prevention.

"We will use the latest science to drive policy and education to change culture and change outcomes for young athletes to make them safer," said foundation co-founder Chris Nowinski.

That includes requiring coaches operating all youth programs, not just schools, to undergo annual training on concussions. Nowinski, who suffered concussions playing football at Harvard University and as a wrestler with the WWE, says he was lucky because he was in his twenties.

"It's a lot to ask a child to deal with a brain injury at such an important time in their life," he said.

One test given to the students was a true or false game:

  • If you've had three concussions you can return to the game. True or False?
  • If you feel better 30 minutes after a hit, you don't have a concussion. True or False?
  • You can always tell when a friend has a concussion. True or False?

Most of the students thought each statement was true, but each was false. It's why the partnership is an important first step not only for Somerville, but the rest of the country.

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