Young soccer player after practice

The impact of concussions on student athletes

From the SAT and ACT to end-of-course academic exams, high stakes standardized tests are a big part of the high school and college experience. And for young athletes, no test may be more important than the ImPACT test.

ImPACT is a baseline test that measures cognitive functioning. If an athlete suffers a concussion, he or she will retake the test to compare various cognitive abilities, including attention span, non-verbal problem solving and reaction time. The results are used to determine whether the athlete is ready to return to practice or game action following the concussion.

ImPACT computer-based testing was introduced to high schools and colleges in the area by the Spartanburg Regional Sports Medicine Institute in 2013. That year, the Sports Medicine Institute was awarded a $13,350 grant from the Spartanburg Regional Foundation. Each year, the foundation awards grants to Spartanburg Regional departments and community organizations that promote health and wellness. Grants in 2016 totaled $695,000.

The ImPACT grant expired in 2016, but schools have elected to continue funding ImPACT on their own and working with Spartanburg athletic trainers due to the value for young athletes.

ImPACT concussion testing at local schools

The incidence of head injuries has become a point of discussion and controversy. Much of the focus, not surprisingly, is on football. But experts note that many other sports carry risks. Among the sports that see relatively high rates of concussions are soccer and lacrosse. 

As researchers and practitioners have begun to better understand the long-term health effects of head injuries, coaches and others who work with young athletes have stepped up efforts to prevent concussions and monitor the symptoms of injured athletes.

“We have taken it very seriously,” said Flynn Harrell, athletic director at Dorman High School.

There are about 1,800 student-athletes at Dorman and its feeder middle schools in Spartanburg County District Six. All of them take the ImPACT baseline test.

“These tests have been used as part of the information to determine if someone is still recovering from a concussion. It’s not the only tool, but when there’s an athlete in question, it’s one of the tools and protocols we use to determine if the player is ready to return,” Harrell said.

At Wofford College, the Regional Foundation grant enabled athletic trainers to get ahead of the NCAA’s push for standardized baseline testing. As with local high schools, lead trainer Will Christman said he and his team, who are employees of Spartanburg Regional Sports Medicine, have used ImPACT as one among a number of tools to assess an injured athlete’s readiness to return.

Most local schools contract with Spartanburg for at least one athletic trainer to work on their campuses and to travel with their teams. Like a number of high schools, Spartanburg High has an athletic trainer on staff. But with games and practices of various sports often taking place at the same time, those trainers need the extra help.

“These trainers are invaluable when it comes to treatment of our athletes,” said Todd Staley, athletic director at Spartanburg High School. “But there are too many athletes for one person to look after everything.”

Therefore, in addition to funding the ImPACT software, the Spartanburg Regional Foundation supports Regional Sports Medicine on an ongoing basis. The foundation’s Sports Medicine Fund provides money for continuing education and training for staff members, including school-based athletic trainers.

Keeping athletes safe and healthy

Funding for the ImPACT software isn’t the only grant the Spartanburg Sports Medicine Institute has gone after, says Matt Lyden, manager of the Institute. It’s a competitive program each year, and Lyden says that even when the Sports Medicine Institute has not been a grant winner, the process has been valuable for his team. It may raise awareness among staff members and partnering school districts or spur an investment at a later time.

“It’s great,” he says. “Whether we have been awarded or not, our staff realizes there’s an opportunity, and I’ve had people rise to the challenge … to do research and explore good ideas.”

Another grant awarded to the Sports Medicine Institute paid for automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) to be located at local outdoor athletic venues on high school and college campuses. One of these was used to help save the life of Wofford football player Michael Roach, who collapsed on the sideline of a game earlier this season.

With all of these contributions that keep athletes in our community safe, local school officials are touting the value of their partnerships with Spartanburg Regional.

“We have absolutely appreciated what Spartanburg Regional has done for us,” Harrell said.