Jeff Scheller, athletic director and head football coach at San Mateo High School, remembers a game during his football career at Hillsdale during which his quarterback was knocked out on a play, only to return to the huddle a short time later.
Those days are long gone. High school coaches and administrators are now on constant watch for any sign of head trauma during a game. Despite the increased vigilance, there is always more that can be done. At least that is the view of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury, which released a report Wednesday that follows up on a report from 2014-15.
There are a number of recommendations from the grand jury, the biggest of which is centralizing a database of concussions in all sport from all schools in San Mateo County.
“It’s an important report,” said Patricia Love, spokeswoman for County Office of Education. “Our superintendent (Nancy McGee) comes from a world of athletics and is passionate about taking care of our athletes and students. … [This report] gives us a chance to review.”
The grand jury included a report on Michigan high school athletics shows that in six boys’ sports and seven girls’ sports there were a total of 256 concussions among nearly 180,000 participants during the 2017-18 school year.
Many local athletic directors believe, however, that they are already doing their due diligence when it comes to concussion protocol. San Mateo Union High School District and Sequoia Union High School District are at the forefront of in-depth protocol for concussion testing, diagnosis and treatment.
The general consensus is, many schools in the county fall in line with national averages, if not below average.
“I’m going to say 30 (concussions in all sports and all levels at Sequoia) would be ballpark. Between 20 and 30,” said Melissa Schmidt, athletic director and girls’ soccer coach at Sequoia High School. “I think it’s pretty typical. You get a couple in soccer, get a few in football. You get a couple in random other things.”
But what happens when a soccer player gets a concussion walking into a pole on campus? Does that go in any report? Because Schmidt has seen it happen.
Both the San Mateo and Sequoia district are already doing the preseason baseline, neurocognitive testing for their athletes and both district have certified athletic trainers at “high risk sports,” as the grand jury calls them.
“The concussion protocol is fair and right,” Scheller said. “I know our district is taking these things really seriously. The goal is for the kids to be safe and have a good experience.”
And the simple fact is, coaches and their staffs are more cognizant of potential head injuries.
“In soccer … in the last two years in the PAL, they’ve gotten a lot more strict as far as if the ref has any suspicion (a player might have suffered a concussion),” Schmidt said. “If I have any concern about any kind of head injury, I won’t send them back in.”
With all the attention placed on concussions, even the athletes have become more aware of the ramifications of any potential head trauma.
“The more you educate the kids, the more kids can stand up for themselves and speak up, ‘Hey, I don’t feel right,’” Schmidt said.
Scheller, however, said coaches, trainers and administrators have to keep vigilant on the players themselves, who are not above lying about their health to get back on the field.
“It depends on the kid,” Scheller said. “Just as much as a kid might tell you the truth … there are just as many kids who are lying to you. I don’t think we can ever know 100 percent, but whatever we’re doing, the concussion protocol, I think it’s the safest.”
The grand jury recommends that all the school districts in the county should lay out an overall concussion protocol for all schools to follow. In the meantime, districts will continue to see how they can better protect high school student-athletes.
“We’re always looking for more way to make it (high school sports) safe. … We’re pretty proud of the work we’ve done here. We’ll continue to work at things,” said Kevin Skelly, superintendent of the San Mateo Union High School District. “Sports are inherently dangerous, but … we’ve come a long way (in improving safety).”