Montgomery County school officials are weighing efforts to screen high school athletes for concussions and similar head injuries linked to Alzheimer's-like disease and suicide.
Superintendent Joshua Starr said Tuesday that his staff is drafting a memo on concussions, while school board member Patricia O'Neill asked for a report on the cost and implementation of baseline screening, which would allow doctors to compare athletes' brain activity before and after injuries.
"I know our budget doesn't have an inch to spare," O'Neill said, "but our students' health obviously has to be paramount."
Last summer, a 2008 Northwest High School graduate died about a week after passing out during a normal football practice at Frostburg State University. His father said doctors said it was due to head trauma.
Tom Hearn, a parent at Walt Whitman High School, urged the school board to consider Derek Sheely's case and the steps some colleges have taken toward preventing and treating concussions. National Football League players engage in only one full-contact practice each week during the regular season, and the league has banned two-a-days during training camp, while some college conferences also have banned two-a-days.
Concussions have been associated withchronic traumatic encephalopathy, an Alzheimer's-like disease. And last week's suicide of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau also reignited the conversation on concussions in football.
Hearn was also concerned about "subconcussive blows." The average high school football player is hit by 350 of them by graduation -- and as many as 2,200, depending on his position.
Last spring, Maryland passed legislation requiring school systems to create concussion awareness programs for coaches, student athletes and their parents, who had to sign a concussion information sheet before their students could play any school sport this year.
O'Neill said she would like to know more about computer programs that measure students' brain activity before they participate in athletics, while fellow board member Michael Durso said he is interested in acquiring full-time trainers for the school system, when the budget allows.
Starr reiterated that the school system takes concussions seriously, but wants to be careful before giving money to a vendor who could be running a scam to capitalize on the community's fears.
"I've just seen it happen over the years: Something comes up, and people start coming out of the woodwork," he said. "Our job is to find a balance between the reality of the situation and to be very willing to make any changes if necessary -- but we have to take a hard look."