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School Board Takes First Look at Head Injury Policy

A total of 87 incidents of varying degrees took place in high school athletics last year.

The Windham School Board took an initial reading of its draft head injuries policy on Oct. 2 as the district joins other towns in the state in adopting regulations that will protect student-athletes.

According to Superintendent Henry LaBranche, the document was prepared by the legal staff of the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

"We believe that it is fairly comprehensive and addresses all of the important protocols," he said.

LaBranche told the board that 87 "incidents of varying degrees" were called to the attention of staff at the high school last year.

Of those incidents related to head injuries, 55 took place in three sports – football, lacrosse and basketball.

No middle school numbers were available for the first meeting.

The adopted guidelines, which are required of every district in the state following the passage of Senate Bill 402 during the last legislative session, will apply across all Windham schools.

The board had some discussion on who makes the call on whether an athlete should return to play after a head injury.

LaBranche answered that the athletic trainer on site makes the decision.

"In my experience, they tend to be very cautious and very protective," he said.

A call on the athlete returning to play is then made following the game by whomever the student is referred to.

Board member Jerome Rekart asked whether the number of head injuries an athlete sustains is tracked across all sports. LaBranche answered that the statistic is kept.

"I do know there is a cumulative effect of those types of head injuries that take place," LaBranche said.

Some board members relayed concern that an athletic trainer can't be present at every event, and at times a coach might have to make a judgement call.

The coaches, as the policy currently reads, will recieve head injury training once every two years, but Rekart said that he would like it changed to an annual training.

According to LaBranche, coaches also typically follow-up with the athletic trainer the next day should they want an athlete to be checked out. .

Windham resident Robert Wright acknowledged the concussion problems that linemen who played in the NFL in the 1960's and 1970's have faced. He said that many have had their life expectancy reduced due to head injuries sustained.

"I know you can't have a trainer at every sport, but maybe you can make sure if the lacrosse team is at one field that the visitor's trianer can come in and you can cover two places," he said.

Board member Mike Joanis said that the Windham atletic trainer moves from event to event if there are multiple games going on.

The board will speak with the school's athletic trainer and other medical staff at a follow-up discussion on the policy.

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