The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s study of head-injury reports from the state’s member schools during the 2015-16 year unveiled some surprising statistics.
Executive director Jack Roberts released results of the MHSAA’s first head-injury survey of more than 750 high schools. It received data from nearly every school. Schools were required to designate if potential concussions occurred during competition or practice and at which level — varsity, junior varsity or freshman, and the survey includes baseline testing of athletes in football and other sports to help with concussion diagnosis.
Michigan schools reported 4,452 head injuries in boys and girls sports, or 5.9 per school. Contact sports had the most head injuries. Ranking first was 11-player football with 49 head injuries per 1,000 participants, followed by ice hockey with 38 and 8-player football with 34. Girls soccer had 30 injuries per 1,000 participants, and girls basketball ranked fifth with 29 injuries per 1,000.
“Soccer doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Betty Wroubel, Pontiac Notre Dame athletic director, girls volleyball and softball coach. “Basketball did. A lot of those kids … we have a lot more kids hitting the ground than we ever had in basketball for some reason.
“We’re just not as strong in our neck, and our head isn’t as strong to withstand jarring which is sometimes causing some of those concussions. … It’s not amazing to me, but it’s an educational tool we can use now to help us improve our programs even better.”
A startling disparity in the number of reported head injuries suffered by girls and boys playing the same sports was the most significant finding revealed by the report.
Boys soccer players reported only 18 head injuries per 1,000 participants. Boys basketball players reported 11. Softball players reported 11 head injuries per 1,000 participants, while baseball players reported four.
Dr. Jeffery Kutcher, one of the country’s leading experts in sports neurology and a board-certified neurologist, said there is some validity to boys’ necks being stronger than girls at that age.
“That trend of seeing a higher concussion rate in girls or young women playing sports as compared to boys in the same sports, we see that actually in data across the country,” Kutcher said. “We do think there are multiple reasons for that. One of them is likely to be neck strength. There may be others that have to do with style of play and nature of the game and those types of issues.”
Health and safety advocates fear concussions often go undetected because of inconsistent protocols at districts unable to spend money for detection. It’s often on players to self-report concussions, or on coaches, who have many responsibilities and sometimes little training, to recognize symptoms.
Brian Gordon, athletic director at Novi, was concerned that some of the numbers might be inaccurate because boys might hide injuries to stay on the field.
“I think it’s the first year where the MHSAA has required all those head-injury reports, where they started to collect the data,” Gordon said. “I think some schools did a really nice job of reporting that data, whereas other schools did not. It does require that we have to do that.
“I think where you see reports of a head injury doesn’t mean that guy was concussed. For instance, we had a head-injury report for soccer last week. The kid got stitches. There was no concussion.”
Total participation in MHSAA sports for 2015-16 was 284,227 — with students counted once for each sport he or she played — and only 1.6% of participants experienced a head injury. Boys experienced 3,003, or 67% of those injuries, although boys participation in sports, especially contact sports, was higher than girls.
More than half of head injuries (54%) were experienced by varsity athletes. A total of 2,973, or 67%, came in competition as opposed to practice. More than half took place during either the middle of practice or middle of competition as opposed to the start or end.
Nearly 56% of injuries were a result of person-to-person contact. The largest percentage of athletes — 28% — returned to activity after six to 10 days, while 20% of those who suffered head injuries returned after 11-15 days of rest, according to the report.
“As far as the physical contact of football, I still think we have to continue to teach kids and make sure that they’re aware of all the rules and regulations and how we’re supposed to tackle and not use the face mask or helmet,” said Greg Carter, Oak Park athletic director and football coach.
Reporting for the 2016-17 school year is underway, and Roberts hopes universities, health care systems and the National Federation of State High School Associations will help analyze the data from last year and this year.
The Associated Press contributed.
Contact Perry A. Farrell: 313-222-2555 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @farrellperry.