Within the last decade, both sons of Minnesota state Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) suffered severe concussions while playing sports.
One, who ran head-on into another baseball player at home plate, had lingering effects for a year and a half, making it hard to concentrate in school. The other, who suffered an injury while playing football, had to give up the sport.
My son “would just keep repeating phrases,” Bonoff said. “He sounded like Rain Man. It was very scary. We didn’t know what was going on.”
Now, a new state law co-authored by Bonoff, should make students, parents and coaches more aware of the dangers that concussions present to young athletes—and not just in football.
The law went into effect for high school athletics in mid-August and for all youth sports Sept. 1.
No laughing matter
"The brain is nothing to play with," said Washburn High School Dean of Students and head football coach Giovan Jenkins said in an email to Southwest Minneapolis Patch.
Both Jenkins and John Biezuns, Southwest High School's football coach both said they remain vigilant for symptoms.
"I was fortunate to only have one serious concussion last year vs. South. It was a big game, and our player was one of our best junior players, so the decision to sit him made things really tough," Biezuns said in an email to Southwest Patch. "Once a player shows signs of a concussion he is immediately removed from the practice or game setting and looked at by a coach and/or trainer if one is available."
"Obviously, as a coach, you preach competition and winning, but safety is really the most important aspect of football," Biezuns added.
How many concussions is too many?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that changes the way the brain functions and is often caused by a blow to the head, according to Heather Bergeson, a sports medicine physician at the TRIA Orthopedic Center in Minneapolis. In Minnesota athletics, football is the leading cause of concussions, but head injuries are common in all forms of competition.
A Minnesota Department of Health study by Dr. Leslie Seymour and Jon Roesler showed that during competition between 2004 and 2007, male athletes in Minnesota annually suffered 130 concussions in football, 84 in hockey, 45 in baseball and 38 in basketball and soccer. For girls sports during the same time period, there were 16 concussion in hockey, 15 in soccer and eight in basketball.
According to head coaches Jenkins and Biezuns, Washburn's and Southwest's football teams each see between one and two concussions every year. Aaron Percy, Southwest's boys soccer coach, said his teams have had only had one concussion in his 14 years of coaching.
“How many concussions is too many? We don’t know,” said Heather Bergeson, a sports physician at the TRIA Orthopaedic Center. “We do know that youth tend to develop more long-term symptoms than adults.”
Bonoff's bill originated in August 2010, when the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota brought the issue to Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, whose own nephew, as well as the son of a close friend, suffered from a sports concussion.
“It’s hard for kids to know if they have a concussion,” Benson said. “We want them to know it’s OK to step back for a bit.”
This story is part of a three-part series examining the new state law on sports-related concussions in Minnesota youth sports. The series was reported by John Hageman, Southwest Minneapolis Patch Local Editor James Sanna, and edited by Regional Sports Coordinator Mark Remme.
TODAY (Part I): The origins of the new Minnesota concussion law
TOMORROW (Part II): Why proper recovery steps are important to an athlete’s long-term health
WEDNESDAY (PART III): How one young woman’s testimony helped get the law passed