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Sept. 16, 2013

Sports

Fourth estate

SMART lab concussion research aids local youth sports Researchers monitor brain activity through helmet sensors and saliva samples (GRAPHIC BY WALTER MARTINEZ/FOURTH ESTATE)

DANIEL GREGORY ASST. SPORTS EDITOR This fall the Jets football team will wear helmets with sensors that monitor the force of impacts sustained throughout games and practices while also submitting saliva samples for potential biomarker research relating to concussions. But these Jets are not professional NFL athletes. They play in the Central Loudoun Youth Football League. Today, concussions are discussed far more frequently in the sports world due largely to recent rule changes in the NFL designed to increase player safety. Most recently, the league settled a multibillion dollar lawsuit with ex-players over league negligence concerning concussions sustained throughout players’ careers. Some suggest the professional football culture must change in order to protect players. In a recent interview with 106.7 The Fan, ex-Washington Redskin Ken Harvey suggested the change needs to start at the youth level. Mason faculty and students are helping to make that change. By participating in concussion research, the CLYFL continues a partnership with the Mason Sports Medicine Assessment and Research Lab and the lab’s director Dr. Shane

Caswell. Founded in 2008, the SMART Lab focuses on conducting research on injury prevention and optimizing human performance. Researchers for the lab include members from the College of Education and Human Development, the athletic training education program, the kinesiology program and the graduate program in exercise, fitness and health promotion. Caswell, a Ph.D. in education and assistant professor to the Mason athletic training program, led extensive research on concussions in scholastic and youth sports through the SMART Lab with assistance from various medical research organizations, youth sports leagues and the Mason athletic training program. Currently, Caswell and the SMART Lab are conducting over 20 projects relating to injury and concussions. Concussions In Youth Scholastic Sports Through their concussion research, the SMART Lab benefits the Northern Virginia community. The lab provides education and athletic trainers to multiple public school systems in the area, working most closely with the Fairfax County and Prince William County School systems. “Through my work with these two organizations, I have been able to work with the leadership in these organizations to help provide

guidance about issues relating to health and safety relating to student athletes, particularly centered around the area of concussion,” Caswell said. “If concussions go unrecognized, they can potentially have long-term consequences for these kids.” Through research with US Lacrosse conducted in the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system, Caswell and his team created a video analysis of high school lacrosse impacts in both the men’s and women’s sport. The analysis directly contributed to rule changes in the game across multiple levels from the NCAA to youth lacrosse. The partnership with FCPS led to the longest study of concussions in secondary sports. That study, in coordination with Dr. Andy Lincoln with Med Star Research Institute and FCPS, indicated an over-400 percent increase in concussions from 1997 to 2008. In 2010, the Virginia state legislature passed a law requiring school divisions to educate coaches, student-athletes and parents about the nature of concussions and the risks associated with the injuries. With the law passed, PWCS decided to take action. “It was our school board’s decision to ramp up that effort and to include a little bit more of a management program to enforce return to play and enforce concussion education for student and staff,” said Fred Milbert, the

“Through my work with these two organizations, I have been able to work with the leadership in these organizations to help provide guidance about issues relating to health and safety relating to student athletes, particularly centered around the area of concussion. If concussions go unrecognized, they can potentially have long-term consequences for these kids.” -Dr. Shane Caswell

supervisor of health and education for PWCS. The SMART Lab, supported with grants from the Potomac Health Foundation, then founded the ACHIEVES program, which helps provide care to underserved students.

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