NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Safety is a top priority for student-athletes at Norfolk Public Schools all year long.
Steve Suttmiller is the senior coordinator of athletics for NPS. He said that when it comes to concussions, the athletics department, made up of staff, coaches and athletic trainers, does not leave anything to chance.
“It’s the only injury with a law, so we follow the law,” Suttmiller said. “And, that’s great for everyone involved, there’s no guess work.”
In Virginia, schools follow the guidelines and policies and procedures on concussions in student-athletes.
For NPS, work begins before anyone steps on the field. Education is number one, said Suttmiller. Everyone receives up-to-date education and information about concussion protocols, and annually, they all have to take a concussion course.
Also, before the season begins, each athlete takes a baseline neurocognitive test.
It is an important piece they need in their concussion testing.
“If something does happen to that student-athlete, we can refer back to it,” Suttmiller said.
At each game, a full-time athletic trainer is onsite. They are tasked with watching the game and looking out for injuries, hits and collisions. They work with groups like Atlantic Orthopedic, which provides trainers for the school division.
UVA Health Neuropsychologist Racheal Smetana spoke with Digital Host Sarah Goode in a live conversation about concussions with kids. She said when an injury occurs on the field, that is the time to evaluate it for a concussion. Each hit that occurs may not look like a concussion, but you can bring that athlete aside and find out.
“Determine, was this hit a threshold of a concussion level? And, so by pulling the kid, kind of seeing, do you feel a little off? do you not? Going through that sideline assessment is how we are able to tell,” Smetana said.
Watch the full Digital Desk conversation with Smetana in the video player below.
When an athlete is hit, there is a possibility they keep playing. This is where the staff comes in, and has to act. They see what took place, evaluate it and then handle the situation appropriately.
“The key thing is really being onsite as the athletic trainer, watching the game, and seeing the injury,” Suttmiller said. “Because an athlete is an athlete. They are not going to always tell you everything that is going on.”
After an athlete is diagnosed with a concussion, students are connected with care they need.
“Not one concussion is the same, we treat them all individually,” Suttmiller said.
Students follow return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols.
Once in the concussion protocol, the patient has to see a concussion specialist. They partner with medical groups in the community like Sentara, EVMS and CHKD. Area physicians support the athletes. Once they clear the neuro tests and symptoms are gone, they will be cleared, and can return with a full-go.
With return-to-learn, it’s a joint effort between the player, parents, athletic staff and teachers. Teachers that are involved with the student are made aware of the concussion, so if any accommodations are needed, they can be made.
Even after the student-athlete is cleared to play, communication continues.
“We’re still going to monitor and just check-in with them to see how they are doing,” Suttmiller said. “We don’t want a relapse number one. And, we make sure they clear through protocol.”
They have training session that is a rehearsal with doctors, athletic trainers, EMS service and staff to prepare. There is EMS personnel at each varsity, junior varsity team and middle school game.
Come game time, Suttmiller said they are ready for anything that happens.