The result of Impact

By Sophie Gordon

The Situation

It’s Feb. 18, just two hours before the FHN Winter guard’s turn to compete at the Winter Guard International (WGI) competition in Kansas City. Sophomore Emily Turnbeaugh falls on the floor on cue. Behind her, senior Abigail Hoffman tosses up her saber, but misses the catch. The four-pound saber hits the rubber floor and bounces back to hit Emily in the head. She never sees it coming.

“I was laying down, and I blacked out for a second,” Emily said. “When I opened my eyes, everyone was looking down, asking me if I was okay.”

Emily sat out for half an hour at the parents’ suggestion. She then finished practice and went on to compete in the first round of the competition.

“I didn’t think anything was actually wrong with me,” Emily said. “They didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I felt okay and only had a little headache.”

After their performance, Emily felt queasy and needed to lie down. She was taken to a local doctor who recommended she didn’t participate for the rest of the night.

Emily was out of the competition. “I was really sad for her,” teammate Maddie Corrao said, “because I know how much she loves guard. Then I felt bad for Abigail because she felt like it was all her fault.”

The next day, Emily was taken to her own doctor who determined she had a concussion. It was recommended that Emily sit out for the next two to three weeks.

“If I didn’t get a concussion, then I would have felt more part of the team,” Emily said. “Not so different.”

Emily is back with the Color Guard this year. She, along with the other members, is required to take ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) this year. Due to the probability of a saber or rifle hitting one of the girls, parents found it important that the girls take the test. They have now been added to the ImPACT list.

“We’re most likely to get hit in the head next to football players due to flying objects,” Emily said. “If we had ImPACT testing we could know more quickly if we had a concussion.”

The Reaction

One of the leading causes of concussions is playing sports according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In order to take preventative measures, FHSD has implemented the requirement of ImPACT for some sports. ImPACT is a scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.

“I think it gives you a little bit of relief,” Activities Director Mike Janes said. “It can give coaches, parents and students an ease of mind to find out the extent of brain injuries.”

Most sports on the ImPACT list are sports with a higher probability of collision. Concussions occur most in contact sports. Sports required to take ImPACT are softball, baseball, football, cheerleading, wrestling and Color and Winter Guards.

“I think it’s important,” Varsity boys Soccer Head Coach Larry Scheller said. “I think that anytime you’re dealing with the brain you have to be as careful as possible.”

The only other change to ImPACT this year is testing being required for freshmen and juniors only because the brain goes through so many changes in those few years. In an interview with PBS, neuroscientist Dr. Jay Giedd M.D. explained his discovery that the brain loses gray matter, the section of the brain associated with intelligence, when stabilizing and strengthening connections. This means the brain of a teenager loses one percent of its gray matter every year. This makes ImPACT important for teenage athletes to take  every few years.

“I think it’s given us a positive effect,” Athletic Trainer Joe Bommarito said, “due to the fact that we can track concussions, treats the injury, and diagnose the severity.”

The Uncertainty

While ImPACT has addressed some sports, others have been left off the list due to a lower collision risk. Volleyball is among these sports.

It was a normal day at practice when junior Katie Proebsting dove for the ball as she had done a million times. However on this late October afternoon, she slammed the back of her head on the hardwood floor.

“My first thought was ‘Wow, she hit her head hard,’ because you could hear it echo through the small gym,” teammate Kaitlin Eifert said.

Katie felt dizzy and lightheaded when she got up. JV coach Carolynn Wallington sent Proebsting to the trainer’s office where Bommarito asked her a series of questions to determine whether she has a concussion.

“He asked me some questions,” Katie said. “Then he said, ‘No, you don’t have a concussion; you’re just fine.’”

Because volleyball is not one of the sports required to take ImPACT, Katie’s concussion went undiagnosed that day at practice. Katie participated in a volleyball tournament that weekend. Following the tournament, Katie went to her doctor who determined that she had a minor concussion. According to Coach Robin Yuede, had they known Katie had a concussion, they would not have allowed her to play.

“We did not know she had a concussion,” Yuede said. “We have girls sitting out now with injuries that we will not let play until they are cleared to go.”

Though Bommarito tried to determine whether she had a concussion to the best of his abilities, his evaluation was not as accurate as the ImPACT may have been. Due to this, Katie participated in a tournmament that might have worsened her concussion.

“I believe volleyball should be required to take ImPACT testing because there is a lot of diving and intense plays in volleyball and you never know what could happen to you,” Katie said. “It would help determine if you should play or not. If you have a serious concussion, you shouldn’t play.”