Team 10: Data shows more concussions being reported at some San Diego schools

Posted at 5:30 PM, Aug 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 22:23:11-04

SAN DIEGO - Team 10 has uncovered statistics that show an increase in concussions at local schools, and the injured are not just football players.

For the Stansbury family, sports are more than just an extracurricular activity. The family's three boys are active in sports, and they have been on dozens of different sports teams through the years.

The oldest brother, 18-year-old Nik Stansbury, just started his senior year of high school. He's a baseball player, but before that it was basketball.

Nik also played football, until he took a devastating blow to the head.

"I suffered a concussion and I was laid out for a really long time," he said.

Nik said he spent six weeks out of school. For a while, the head injury caused him to have trouble swallowing food, and at one point, he lost all motion in his right leg, he said.

"I had no energy, my head was always hurting," Nik said. "I kind of went almost brain-dead for a little bit."

The injury happened in youth football, before high school, but it was enough to make Nik hang up his cleats early.

"Just knowing from my experience, I don't want to go through that again," he said.

Nik's parents said they didn't let the younger boys play tackle for about three years.

But kids are persistent, and eventually football was back.

"There's risk in everything in life, and you know, even worse you can't [prevent] your kids [from] playing any sports," said father Richard Stansbury.

High school injuries and preparation

Team 10 collected concussion and traumatic brain injury data from school districts across San Diego County.

Six districts responded with information, and their combined numbers show local students suffer hundreds of concussions each year playing high school sports.

While football gets all the unwelcome notoriety, not all concussion injuries happen on the gridiron.

Click to enlarge

Statistics from other county schools/school districts:

El Camino HS (Oceanside)
Escondido Union High School District
Oceanside High School
Poway Unified School District
San Dieguito Union High School District
San Marcos Unified School District
Vista Unified School District

"Understanding the nature of sports, they can happen, so you need to be able to recognize them immediately, intervene on the students' behalf and care for them in the rehabilitative process," said Robbie Bowers, the certified athletic trainer at Rancho Bernardo High School.

Bowers has been at the helm since the school opened its doors. He said the state of California is finally passing laws that catch up to safety measures he said he put in place more than a decade ago.

"Removing them and not returning them to play the same day that they have symptoms," Bowers said. "Returning them once all their symptoms have resolved and they are no longer having symptoms at rest or with academic load. Then we start to gradually progress them through a gradual return to play."

The county's two largest districts -- Sweetwater Union High School District and San Diego Unified School District -- did not provide numbers by the time this story aired.

In an email response to Team 10's public records request, Sweetwater Union High School District's legal services division wrote:


"According to the information that the District received from the Athletics Director and School Nurses, we do not keep records regarding the number of concussions received by and/or diagnosed for student athletes in all sports programs and the sports programs of the students involved (football, baseball, softball, soccer, cheerleading, etc.)."

San Diego Unified School District's legal division said it will have responsive documents, if any exist, prepared in 12 weeks. When pressed for information on ways they plan to keep student athletes safe with new and current safety protocols the district responded:

"Student safety is the district's highest priority. If a student were to suffer a concussion or show signs of a concussion during or following a football game, there are specific protocols in place for the staff to follow. Athletic directors review these protocols with coaches at the start of each season. These protocols are available on the district's website for staff and the public for reference. In addition, all football coaches receive training each year through the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in concussion protocol, sudden cardiac arrest, heat illness prevention, and blocking, tackling and equipment fitting courses, as well as the fundamentals of coaching. Furthermore, the district is working to have a certified athletic trainer at every school and should have that in place over the next few weeks. Details are still being worked out. Again, the district is committed to making sure that all students are safe."

Officials with the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) told Team 10 they do not collect information or require school districts to collect information on the number of concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

CIF does offer information for districts and an explanation of California's laws. According to CIF: "California law mandates that all coaches must receive training on concussions. The training may be fulfilled through the free, online course available through the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Additionally, California law mandates that all CIF member schools must comply with the following: On a yearly basis, a concussion and head injury information sheet shall be signed and returned by the athlete and the athlete's parent or guardian before the athlete's initiating practice or competition."

Testing for safety

"So how do we diagnose a concussion? Headache is the number one symptom," said Dr. Kenneth Taylor, a sports medicine physician and concussion expert at UC San Diego Health.

Taylor's team of doctors helps treat and prevent sports-related concussions.

According to the UCSD Health website: "A concussion is a type of brain injury that changes the way your brain normally works. It can be caused by a jolt, blow or bump to the head or body. While a concussion is described as a mild brain injury (not life threatening in most cases), the aftereffects of a concussion can be serious. The brain is not fixed; it is actually suspended in cerebral spinal fluid within the skull. A sudden blow or jolt can cause the brain to shake quickly back and forth. When this happens, axons (long threadlike part of a nerve cell) become damaged. Axons are responsible for transmitting messages between nerve cells in the brain – without them, nerve cells are unable to communicate. Blood vessel damage in the brain may also occur, which can cause swelling and inflammation."

Along with treating sports-related concussions, Taylor's team offers baseline testing that helps establish athletes' responses in areas like balance and memory. According to their website: "A baseline test helps to establish your 'normal' responses in things like balance, memory, and cognition. This is often done before the season starts so if a head injury occurs, our experts can evaluate you based on your individual 'normal.'"

If an injury happens, doctors can use the baseline test to help evaluate the patient for a concussion.

Taylor said he's worries about the student who doesn't report an injury and under-reporting in general. But, he said, the number of children hiding concussions have become few and far between.

"We see the concussion numbers increase, but I think it's really we're doing a better job of diagnosing it," Taylor said. "Really, it's probably more on education than anything else."

Proposed laws

AB-2007 Youth athletics: youth sports organizations: concussions or other head injuries
AB-2182 School athletics: neurocognitive testing

Helpful links for parents

UC San Diego Health Sports Medicine
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "HEADS UP"