Falcon athletic director gets head start to curb concussions

Padded head protection like these worn by Falcon boys soccer players Cameron Coupe, River Ellis and Calvin Shimada may reduce the severity and frequency of head injuries at South Whidbey High School.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Padded head protection like these worn by Falcon boys soccer players Cameron Coupe, River Ellis and Calvin Shimada may reduce the severity and frequency of head injuries at South Whidbey High School.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

LANGLEY — Almost a dozen Falcon student-athletes suffered concussions and other head injuries this year.

And South Whidbey athletic director Scott Mauk wants to tackle the issue head-on. In his first year as the high school’s head athletic officer, Mauk purchased padded helmets for the boys and girls soccer players, enough for each Falcon to wear one during the season. The choice remains theirs, for now.

“The soccer head gear was sparked by soccer kids who had injuries and wanted them,” Mauk said.

“I wanted to see if they would have a wider application and if we could reduce risk to injury by using them for most if not all players.”

The effects of concussions and other head injuries are at the front of national health concerns, especially among student athletes. Junior Seau, a former NFL linebacker who played for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, committed suicide recently and it has been argued his mental health was affected by numerous head injuries during his career. More locally, the Falcon boys soccer team took a hit in the 2011 season when forward Noah Moeller, now a senior, suffered a concussion during a match and was forced to miss the second half of the season, including the playoffs.

Keeping kids safe has become a paramount objective for Mauk and the Falcon athletics department. In April, he hosted a concussion expert from to explain the dangers and increasing frequency of head injuries. 

“We love sports,” said Jean Rickerson, the CEO of “There’s nothing that we do or the work that we do that is geared toward stopping football or changing soccer or anything.”

One of her group’s aims is to educate athletes, parents and coaches about the signs and symptoms of a concussion. While 80 percent of concussions — the result of sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head or body — heal within three weeks, Rickerson said, some may last longer and can be hard to identify if there isn’t an immediate blackout. Her son suffered a concussion while playing football a few years ago, he stayed on the field, was able to run several plays at quarterback and complete a touchdown pass. The disorientation was noticed later by his teammates who told their coaches.

“Most of the concussed athletes go home, and they go home to parents who don’t know what they’re seeing,” Rickerson said of concussions.

Confusion, disorientation, retro and anterograde amnesia, head aches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, imbalance and slowed thought processes are all signs and symptoms of a concussion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions annually, and 248,418 athletes 19 and younger were sent to the emergency room in 2009. That was a 60 percent increase from 1999.

“Concussions are cumulative, and it’s a lifetime cumulation,” Rickerson said.

Recovery time varies, but it requires a whole lot of nothing. No texting. No sports. No reading. Activities that strain the brain cognitively or physically, which is just about everything except rest (and watching “Two and a Half Men”).

South Whidbey High School spent about $550 on 16 padded helmets for soccer during the spring sports season. During the boys soccer season, no varsity players missed matches because of head injuries. Mauk said he asked the other Falcon coaches if they wanted to use them and was waiting for their responses.

The Falcons are in qualified and concerned hands between Mauk and the school’s nurse, Marcia Statz. They’re working on head injury protocols, such as notifying teachers about possible lingering concussion symptoms that can affect students’ ability to learn. South Whidbey’s athletics and health staff are also coordinating with paramedics and emergency medical technicians that attend most Falcon sports events. A list of athletes with previous head injuries may help first responders treat future head injuries.

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