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Retired NFL Giants offensive tackle David Diehl is one of the well-known former athletes who speaks on a regular basis about concussion prevention and proper cardiac screening through the work of the Matthew J. Morahan Health Assessment Center For Athletes at Barnabas Health. There will be an upcoming opportunity for both cardiac and concussion screen youngsters on Saturday, Aug. 9, at Clara Maas Hospital in Belleville. (photo courtesy of Yogi Berra Museum)

Caldwell Athletic Director Rich Porfido is one of those AD's from the Super Essex Conference with a very strong interest about concussion screening. (Photo by Bill Allen-njsportaction.net)

John Gallucci of JAG Physical Therapy frequently speaks about concussions. Seated behind him are Diana Toto of the Morahan Center and David Diehl. (photo courtesy of Yogi Berra Museum)

Concussion Prevention & Safe Tackling
Among Concerns As Fall Season Nears
By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

As the 2014-2015 high school sports year fast approaches, including the always safety-surrounded the hot-button topic of concussions and the increased awareness of the dangers of traumatic brain injury remain center stage at the scholastic level, and incoming athletes for fall sports – and beyond just football - will continue to have pre-screening before being allowed to hit the field for practice in August as a new school campaign is right around the corner.

The Super Essex Conference, through the urging of Millburn Athletic Director Ted D’Alessio and retired Montclair assistant principal in charge of athletics John Porcelli, has helped initiate “Heads Up” clinics for the conference’s 24 football playing schools, a key player-safety precaution heading into the 2014 gridiron campaign.

The Heads Up program, initiated by USA Football, an official youth development partner of the National Football League, is not only raising awareness about topics such as concussions but also emphasizing proper tackling techniques.

And, meanwhile, the wide-ranging education on the subject of concussions and also the screening and prevention of heart problems in young athletes is being imparted throughout the year from individuals such as ex-Giants football offensive lineman David Diehl, John Gallucci of JAG Physical Therapy and Diana Toto of the Matthew J. Morahan Health Assessment Center For Athletes at Barnabas Health, all of whom take part in seminars throughout the state where the wide-ranging subject of concussions and the vital, well-monitored “Return To Play” requirements are discussed.

Athletic Directors in the SEC are at the forefront of making not only “Heads Up” take hold with the football playing schools, but also in continuing to emphasize concussion prevention and the guidelines of “Return To Play.”

“We’ve been following the Impact test pre-screening for our incoming freshmen regarding developing a baseline for our student-athletes since 2009, and we re-test every two years, but it’s always helpful to have reinforcement of all that is involved with concussion awareness,” said Rich Porfido, the athletic director at Caldwell High School, who has been one of the school administrators that has been behind concussion awareness. “A concussion is a tough injury to diagnose as far as when a youngster is ready to return, but we’re learning more every year.

“It’s not like a broken leg, where you know when it’s healed. The brain remains very complex to understand, and there are great challenges involved for physicians who may sign off on a return to play for an athlete.”

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has stepped up in the last few years, asserting strong recommendations regarding concussion awareness, screening procedures, and ‘Return To Play’ protocol for member high schools to follow when it comes to certain mental and physical tasks that must be achieved by a concussed student-athlete before he or she is allowed to return to action. Also, those who study the topic are both appreciative and cognizant of the importance of the efforts being made regarding ensuring the health and well being surrounding the cerebral passages of each and every athlete.

“New Jersey now requires written clearance from a doctor skilled in this area to return to competition or practice,” said Gallucci. “It’s a good start, but more education is needed so athletes, coaches and families can pick up on the signs and symptoms.”

Diehl, the now retired offensive tackle with the football Giants, has also taken a firm stand on the topic.

“I really believe the NFL is doing a good job with its baseline tests, and with keeping a close eye on what is happening with its players regarding concussions, while also having helmets examined each week; but I also know that helmets aren’t being looked at each week at the high school level,” said the retired Giants O-Line standout. “It’s so important to have concussion awareness at all levels, and I’m going to try and do my part to get the word out, including at evenings like this one.

“Missing a game or a season is better than missing out on the rest of your life!”

According to Gallucci, there are 1.7 million people nationwide who suffer traumatic brain injury each year, and 52,000 deaths from “TBI.”

“It’s so important that there is education for athletes and coaches to be able to pick up on the signs and symptoms of acute concussions,” he said. “A big misnomer is that concussions are only due to contact with the head. When the athlete goes from moving quickly to suddenly stopping, the brain keeps going. That speed in the brain causes impact inside and can result in concussion.”

Toto, an exercise physiologist who is the program coordinator for the Matthew J. Morahan Health Assessment Center for Athletes at Barnabas Health, believes that certain steps should be taken before a concussed athlete is allowed back on the field.

“We really need to have thorough medical histories, and I think there should be better cardiac screening as well as everything else we’re focusing on,” she said. “As far as the Return To Play protocol is concerned, there is a step-wise progression, from no activity to light aerobics, and there are sport specific exercises to help us realize the concussed athlete’s functional abilities.”

Already in New Jersey high schools, there are more girls soccer teams utilizing added protection for the head, while softball players also wear their own versions of masks or headgear. Girls lacrosse players have added more protection in recent years.

Gallucci believes the idea of making certain changes to better ensure the welfare of the athlete, scholastic or at the youth level, is vital moving forward.

“I’m in favor of anything that is going to prevent a child from getting injured who doesn’t need to be injured,” he said. “So, the component of changing rules in sports, if it’s for the safety of a child, I think is very important.

“I don’t believe everyone should be in bubble wrap. I think the component of the sport is important, but I think that you can play youth sports, especially hockey, and not have to body check.”

Athletic trainers remain so vitally important in monitoring student-athletes.

“Our trainer, Scott Aji, has been with us four years and keeps a close eye on how an athlete is responding out there on the field, and the athlete’s doctor is also so important, especially in following the Return To Play guidelines,” said Caldwell’s Porfido. “Year by year we’re learning more and more about concussion awareness and many more trainers and athletic directors are continually picking up valuable information.

“It’s so important to have concussion awareness at all levels in all the sports, and we’re trying to do our part with the athletes we deal with at Caldwell High School.”

New 9-Day 'Dead Period' Will Give Athletes & Coaches A Break

In addition to “Heads Up” in the SEC, the conference coaches are also requiring football teams to limit full contact in practices to 90 minutes or less per week. There will also be a mandatory ‘dead period’ for all sports beginning next summer. Schools will choose a 9-day period during the summer when coaches will not be allowed to work with their players in sports-related functions/activities.

Montclair Kimberley Academy elected to start the ‘dead period’ this summer when all MKA teams will be inactive from Aug. 1-10.

Cardiac & Concussion Screening Upcoming At Clara Maas Hospital Aug. 9

As far as the Morahan Health Assessment Center For Athletes At Barnabas Health is concerned, there will be free cardiac and concussion screenings throughout the summer and fall at various locations around the state. One upcoming opportunity to be screened is on Saturday, Aug. 9, from 8 a.m. to noon at Clara Maas Medical Center, 1 Clara Maas Drive, Belleville, 07109.

Cardiac screening for youngsters ages 6-18 and concussion screening for those 12 and older will be offered on the special days at sites such as Clara Maas. Registration is required. If interested, send an email to teamlink@barnabashealth.org.

More information on the excellent work of the Morahan Health Assessment Center is available at www.barnabashealth.org/morahan

Diana Toto, program coordinator for the Matthew J. Morahan Health Assessment Center for Athletes at Barnabas Health, has spoken around state about concussion prevention and full cardiac screening. (photo courtesy of Barnabas Health. Vist barnabashealth.org)

Caldwell head football coach Ken Trimmer talks with John Gallucci and Kayla Devlin of JAG Physical Therapy which along with the Morahan Center has remained committed to spreading the word concerning seeking out the proper screenings for the prevention of cardiac problems and the detection of concussions. (Photo by Bill Allen-njsportaction.net)

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