Sonoma County's largest school district is pressing forward with what backers are calling the most comprehensive concussion awareness and prevention program among the area's high school athletic programs.
After faltering last fall and failing to hire certified athletic trainers for each of the district's five comprehensive high schools, Santa Rosa City Schools turned to athletic directors and North Coast Concussion Management, a local nonprofit group. The group has enlisted doctors, athletic trainers, parents and others to give online cognitive tests and conduct education sessions for more than 1,400 athletes in the 2013-14 school year.
"What we have established in our district is probably one of the more important things that we have ever really done," said veteran trustee Frank Pugh. "I believe we are changing lives and saving lives as well."
The district hopes to expand the program in the upcoming school year by adding more athletes and hiring trainers to look for signs of concussion and other injuries.
Santa Rosa's program follows what has been established at other local schools, but the scale of the education and testing component is unparalleled in Sonoma County, according to Dr. Ty Affleck, who heads Santa Rosa Sports and Family Medicine and is part of the concussion management group.
Student athletes who played football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling and other sports were given a computerized test that is used as a baseline against a post-injury test. The students were also given tutorials on what concussion symptoms look and feel like.
Coaches receive similar training.
The baseline tests, and post-injury tests, are sent with students to their physicians if a concussion is suspected, Affleck said. Forty-three post-injury tests were administered this school year.
"So the kids aren't just released, and 'Go back tomorrow,'" he said. "That is not the way it works anymore."
Hiring five trainers remains a priority for the district. Only four people have recently applied for the job, which pays $15,000 per year.