UPDATED: La Jolla High football concussion controversy

La Jolla High coach gone after allegedly asking student with head trauma to remain in game

A story about a La Jolla High School football player who sustained a concussion during a game, but was allegedly told to keep playing, is raising questions about the training high school coaches receive to recognize the signs of a concussion and other head injuries.
The story, published Jan. 5 by the online news source, Voice of San Diego (VOSD), said the unnamed, 17-year-old junior varsity player has not returned to school for a full day since the injury, sustained during head-on contact with another player, Oct. 16 in a game against Point Loma High School.

According to VOSD, the player allegedly told his assistant coach, Steven Wachs, that he was hurt, but he was sent back into the game, according to his father and La Jolla High head football coach Jason Carter.

According to VOSD, the student asked if he could sit out, but Carter said Wachs refused his request, telling the student to “suck it up” and keep playing. The boy’s father told VOSD his son was vomiting on the sidelines (one of the indicators of a head injury).

Speaking with VOSD, Wachs, who was later placed on suspension, disputed that account.

Responding to questions from La Jolla Light via e-mail, Ursula Kroemer, chief public information officer for the San Diego Unified School District, said disciplinary issues are confidential, although she said, “Mr. Wachs is not scheduled to return” next season.

Asked whether the school district has reimbursed the student’s family for his medical expenses, Kroemer said she was “not aware that this has happened or been requested.”

State rules require all coaches to undergo training to identify possible head trauma.

Kroemer said San Diego Unified officials “take the health and safety of our students very seriously — both off the field and on — and regularly review our protocols to make sure they are in keeping with recommended practices by both the medical and athletic community.”

All athletic coaches in the San Diego Unified School District are required to participate in the state-mandated, California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Coaching Education Program, as well as the National Federation of State High Schools Association’s “Concussion in Sports” course, and produce a certificate before they can be hired by the district.

“Starting next year, they will also be required to take a cardiac symptoms class,” Kroemer said. “There has been heightened awareness of late on the issue of concussion-related injuries and as a district we are applying more scrutiny to our review processes. Dr. Howard Taras, our district physician, has started drafting a concussion protocol that he will roll out with the (school district’s) Nursing and Wellness team next week, and then with all P.E. faculty/staff to better identify steps we need to take when it is reported or suspected that a student may have suffered a concussion. This will be modeled after the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) “Return to Learn” guidelines to make sure a student’s return-to-school process after a concussion is inclusive of all school professionals, the student and his or her family and his or her healthcare team.

“Concurrent with this effort,” Kroemer added, “the CIF Board of Managers this week is asked to consider the approval of CIF Bylaw 503H Concussion Protocol revision.”

In 2010 the CIF passed Bylaw 503 that required physicians sign a “Return to Play” form for any student suspected of having a concussion, Kroemer said. The proposed revision (which has made its way successfully through the CIF with the final step being approval by the Board of Managers) “would further provide that, if a licensed health care provider determines the athlete sustained a concussion or a head injury, the athlete is required to complete a gradual return-to-play protocol of no less than seven days under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.”

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