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Concussions more than headache for young athletes

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ST. PAUL - Running back Jessey Grove took the football right up the middle during a game with rival Luverne last season, and was hit in the head.

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The Windom Area High School senior immediately went out of the game, but did not think he was hurt.

"I did not think anything was wrong until the trainer used her test and said I had a concussion right on the spot," Grove told a recent Minnesota legislative committee meeting.

After that, he felt fine, but sat out the rest of the season. When the holidays arrived, so did migraine headaches.

"I had every single test from every doctor," Grove said, but there was no cure.

The young athlete missed 43 school days, some of which he could not leave his room at home.

With stories like that, Rep. Rob Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, has pushed a bill through three Minnesota House committees to require officials of any organization that sponsors youth sports events to learn about concussions. The bill also forbids officials from allowing youths to continue play or practice if a concussion is suspected.

"This bill really does need to be passed, so people don't end up losing time like I did," Grove told lawmakers.

Concussions have been a prime issue for discussion at all levels of sports in recent months as the brain injury gets more publicity.

"Have you ever noticed that our student athletes are getting bigger, stronger, faster?" Hamilton asked.

Those factors and others are making injuries more common in many sports.

Hamilton said he was asked to carry the bill, but did not need his arm twisted because his daughter's boyfriend and a friend of his son both sustained concussions.

"This is to educate folks," Hamilton said about his bill.

The bill affects youth sports groups of all kinds, including schools, local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations.

It requires coaches and officials of those organizations to take part in an on-line concussion class offered by the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill also requires coaches and officials to remove an athlete from activity if there are signs of a concussion.

The bill has passed three House committees with unanimous voice votes and faces one more committee before reaching a full House vote. A similar bill awaits Senate action.

Hamilton said his bill would not increase legal liability on organizations that sponsor sports.

But attorney Dan Greensweig, representing the League of Minnesota cities, said city leaders do have some concerns. He predicted that the Hamilton bill would increase government costs, due in part to increased paperwork. It also could hurt the recruitment of volunteers, he said.

One question Greensweig raised, which was not answered, is who would be responsible for a concussion that occurs in a pick-up game at a city-owned facility.

Hamilton said questions remain, and he is willing to deal with them before the bill reaches the full House.

Too often, Hamilton said, coaches tell athletes to "walk it off," "skate through it" or "cowboy up" after getting hurt.

Thirteen states already have laws similar to the Hamilton bill and 28 others are looking into the issue.

The Brain Injury Association of Minnesota estimates that 50,000 young athletes suffer concussions each year, but many injuries are not reported.

"We know we can prevent more serious brain injuries if we can prevent student athletes from returning to action or practice too soon," the association's David King said.

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Dr. Mark Carlson, a Bemidji sports and occupational specialist, said concussions are tough on young people because they "have not always been taken seriously."

"The treatment is time ... and complete rest," he said.

The time it takes to recover is not known until the athlete recovers, Carlson added.

But doctors do know, he said, that "children take longer to recover than adults."

Also, Carlson said, a young person's second concussion hurts more and makes it even harder to concentrate.

Kayla Meyer, a New Prague High School student, has made it her mission to draw attention to sports injuries.

Meyer was hurt in hockey, leading her to miss 38 days of school last year and 30 days this year.

"Coaches sometimes do know and sometimes do not know about concussions," she said.

When she had to sit out of hockey, she said, it was tough. "I cried because hockey was my life."

Life was made tougher because the coaches did not know how to treat Meyer.

"Let's put a helmet on you and you skate through it," she said they told her.

"My coaches did not know what to do even though that season we already had had three concussions," she added.

With all of her problems, Meyer had maintained a sense of humor. She said that she no longer can work in the family's kennels "because the dogs are barking and dad is singing annoying '70s music."

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