The Santa Rosa High girls basketball team was playing at a preseason tournament in Pacifica in early December when sophomore Devin Murray found herself wrestling with an opponent for a loose ball.
"My hand slipped out from the ball, and the back of my head hit right on the floor," Murray recalled. "I didn't black out, surprisingly. But I was fuzzy. Everything was kind of blurry, and I kind of lost track of time."
Murray's father told her on the long drive home that he had never heard her scream so loud before. She didn't remember doing it. Murray had a concussion.
She would miss four games over three weeks, and her classroom retention wouldn't really come back for two months.
Murray's diagnosis and treatment were textbook, largely because Santa Rosa Junior College head athletic trainer Monica Ohkubo, who also helps out the Santa Rosa High athletic program, advised her immediately, even before she got to the Kaiser Permanente emergency room that night.
Not every kid is so fortunate. Starting this autumn, however, student-athletes at all five Santa Rosa public high schools will be supervised by certified athletic trainers and given baseline cognitive tests to help evaluate head injuries.
The Santa Rosa City Schools board of education voted Feb. 27 to initiate both advances during the 2013-14 school year.
"I think it's a great move, and long overdue," said Steve Chisholm, Murray's coach at Santa Rosa High. "It allows somebody with expertise in the field to use their experience to make the calls, instead of putting that decision on a coach who's had maybe 20 minutes of training."
Experts like Ohkubo have been advocating for game-dedicated trainers for some time. As of this moment, Casa Grande High in Petaluma is believed to be the only local school with a certified athletic trainer at all contact sporting events. Next school year, the roll will include Santa Rosa, Montgomery, Maria Carrillo, Piner and Elsie Allen high schools, affecting some 11,000 students — not counting kids from opposing teams who might benefit from having a trainer at their games.
Each of the Santa Rosa city high schools will work with a Sonoma State student pursuing a master's degree in athletic training. (The trainers will make $15,000 for 36 weeks' work.) The grad students will be armed with bachelor's degrees in athletic training and certificates that qualify them to work games.
What's more, those trainers will have baseline cognitive testing at their disposal.
Before a contact sport begins its season — and that includes football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, baseball and softball — each athlete in that sport will take a lengthy online test that measures memory, concentration and problem solving. If a player is suspected of suffering a concussion, the retests can help determine his or her level of impairment.
It's an important tool for doctors to use when evaluating injured athletes.
The Santa Rosa schools will subscribe to the ImPACT baseline testing platform, which is currently used at Analy and El Molino, as well as SSU and SRJC. Casa Grande uses a different brand, Concussion Vital Signs.
Sonoma State kinesiology professor Steven Winter, who helps oversee the graduate program there, estimates that the new protocols will cost Santa Rosa City Schools close to $90,000 per year: $75,000 for trainers' fees, $10,000 for supplies such as tape and bandages, and $3,750 to $5,000 for testing.