Posted: 7:25 pm Friday, June 15th, 2012

Area Pop Warner league to require injury reports to prevent concussions 

By Matt Porter

Concerned about the lack of hard knowledge surrounding concussions in its young athletes, the area’s largest Pop Warner football organization this season will require all teams to provide detailed injury reports.

Treasure Coast Pop Warner Conference President Gary Byerly said Friday that all of the 21 programs in his league, which runs from Vero Beach to Boca Raton, must fill out a detailed form after every injury.

The decision, he said, came after talking with a Palm Beach Post reporter Thursday about Pop Warner football’s announcement this week that it will limit contact in practices this season in an effort to fight concussions in young athletes.

“It hit a nerve,” Byerly said. “I think we keep a close eye on things. We’ve decided to take it one step further. We want to keep track of where our injuries are.”

The news will be applauded by Dr. Dawn Comstock, who leads a concussion research team working with the National Federation of High Schools. In a January interview with The Post, Comstock said while concussion reporting at the high school level has vastly improved, there remains a troubling knowledge gap in youth sports.

“We know quite a bit about professional athletes,” Comstock said. “Quite a bit about collegiate athletes. Quite a bit about high school athletes now. We don’t know anything about youth sports.”

Comstock developed the first nationwide concussion reporting system for high school sports, called RIO. Every week, certified athletic trainers at more than 100 high schools in 48 states log into RIO and detail every injury that occurs in practices or games involving their school.

Byerly’s form isn’t nearly as detailed — it asks for coaches to describe the significance of the injury, and symptoms, how the athlete was treated, and whether it was preventable — but it is a start.

Byerly said his conference requires players who leave a game due to a suspected concussion to remain out of action until cleared by a medical professional. High schools require the same procedure.

Concussions are 22 percent of all high school football injuries, according to Comstock. In a pilot study done last year involving 48 middle-school and Pop Warner programs, her team found concussions are 19 percent of football injuries at that level.

“I’m letting [Pop Warner] regional and national look at what we’re doing,” Byerly said. “They might step up and say we’re going to do this nationally. If it’s a safety issue, they usually do it right away.”