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Safety first: Issue not limited to gridiron

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Former Butler basketball player Haley Howard, right, suffered a concussion last season.
Former Butler basketball player Haley Howard, right, suffered a concussion last season.

The first 21 years of former Butler University women’s basketball player Haley Howard’s life included one concussion.

She doesn’t want to experience a second.

Early in the 2013-14 season, the Whiteland Community High School product dove for a loose ball in practice and slammed into the back of 6-foot-1 forward Ijeoma Uchendo.

“I got a really bad concussion, and I got whiplash,” said Howard, who recently announced she would be transferring to a yet-to-be-named Division I school. “It took two or three weeks for me to recover. I had a headache and felt sick all of the time. It was awful.

“The worst part was always having a headache and just feeling sick and groggy. Compared to the leg injury (stress fracture in her left femur) I had the year before,

the concussion wasn’t that bad. But as far as homework and just falling behind, it’s the worst.”

An ally to young concussion sufferers is the Indiana Sports Concussion Network.

Founded in 2008, ISCN’s purpose is to reduce the number of concussions that go undetected, untreated or are improperly treated in Indiana.

The network offers Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) to the state’s high school athletes and is funded in part by a donation from the Indianapolis Colts.

ISCN’s co-directors are Dr. Hank Feuer and Dr. Terry Horner.

“A couple things he and I do are teach doctors and nurse practitioners,” said Feuer, who in the past has worked with Indiana University football teams and the Indianapolis Colts. “We go over all the examinations and what needs to be done in an office setting.

“We’ve trained quite a few doctors, and what that’s doing is allowing doctors and nurse practitioners to basically do what we’ve been doing. Education and awareness are the two major things. It’s about changing the culture.”

There are a total of 169 Indiana Sports Concussion Network clinicians throughout the state, including three in Johnson County. All have been trained to administer and ultimately read ImPACT post-injury tests.

Test results include a play-plan designed to help ensure proper recovery and full healing of the brain. Such measures help prevent an athlete from returning to his or her athletic competition prematurely.

Because of its physical nature, football offers the biggest risk of concussion. According to the Sports Concussion Institute, a male has a 75 percent chance for concussion, while soccer offers the highest risk for females (50 percent).

Moreover, 78 percent of athlete concussions occur during games rather than practices.

“The fact is people get concussions in every other sport, but you only hear about it with football,” said Aaron Hohlt, formerly president of the Center Grove Bantam Football League. “The fact of the matter is it’s more dangerous for your first-grader to ride a bike than it is to play football.

“Don’t attack one sport. That’s where I get frustrated.”

The required culture change Feuer speaks of encompasses all sports and both genders.

Everything from cross-country to volleyball to wrestling to baseball includes risk of concussion.

“Only now are we taking the educational steps necessary to instinctly and willingly act when such injury takes place,” he said. “The main goal is to see if we can get everybody on board. I’m talking coaches, parents, everybody.

“Let’s be aware.”

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