5C Athletes Battle Injury Enemy

The risk of getting a concussion is something that all athletes are aware of when they decide to play competitive sports at the 5Cs.

There have been 61 concussions reported among Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletes in the last four years, making up 4.8 percent of total injuries, according to CMS head athletic trainer Steve Graves. In the last two years, Pomona-Pitzer has reported 20 concussions in football and men’s and women’s soccer alone, according to P-P head athletic trainer Kirk Jones. 

As much as athletic trainers in both the CMS and P-P athletic programs try to educate athletes on recognizing symptoms and understanding long-term effects of concussions, there is no way to actually prevent one from happening.

“Concussions are caused by the movement of the brain inside your skull and not by how hard you get hit,” Jones said. “Since we cannot change how our brain moves, as it is suspended in fluid, prevention is difficult despite all of the protective technologies such as helmet specifications and tackling techniques.” 

The degree of severity of a concussion varies from athlete to athlete and there is no standard formula for determining how long a player might be out of competition, but one philosophy that athletic trainers live by is to be conservative when it comes to evaluating athletes.

“Athletic trainers have the discretion to tell an athlete to stop play if they show signs of a concussion that last longer than a reasonable amount of time,” Graves said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry and pull an athlete out if they even think they might have a concussion.”

Athletes then go through a protocol before returning to play, which can happen in a period of time as short as one week. First, the athlete must report that they have stopped showing concussion symptoms and that they are performing normally in school. Then the trainers give them a 24-hour waiting period before resuming activity. After this first day of symptom-free conditions, athletes can gradually increase their exertion levels until a physician clears them to play in a full-contact practice on the seventh day. 

Fortunately, a majority of the athletes in both programs are able to recover and resume play. Kim Scamman CM ’15, a guard on the CMS basketball team, and Ian Schiffer PO ’17, a tight end on the P-P football team, are two athletes who suffered concussions in the 2014-2015 sports season but were able to return to competitive play. 

Scamman suffered her first concussion earlier this year and had to miss two basketball games while she recovered. Her total recovery time lasted about one week.

“The first game I knew I shouldn't be playing, but I was really upset to have to report the concussion and miss the second game,” Scamman said.

A key player on the Athenas’ team, Scamman was saddened to not be on the court with her teammates, but was aware of the risks of coming back to play too soon.

“When it comes to concussions, it's something you don't want to mess with, and it's not worth risking your health just to play in one game,” Scamman said.

In addition to having potential negative health consequences, concussions can also affect one's ability to perform well in school. Jones understands that his athletes are here for an education, and he stresses the risks they take by failing to be honest about their symptoms.

“I tell [athletes] that while games are important, you came here to function and cognitively do your best,” Jones said. “While sport is very important, you don't want to short-change your academics.”

Schiffer was also able to resume playing, but had to sit out for six weeks and miss three football games while recovering from symptoms. Since this concussion was his third, the recovery process was longer than the typical case might be. And, like Scamman, Schiffer also valued his long-term health over risking another serious injury before he was fully recovered.

“I realize that my long-term health is worth waiting for, and, while I hated sitting out, head injuries aren't anything to wait on,” Schiffer said.

For Schiffer, the transition back to play wasn’t all that difficult. He agrees that the biggest pains were not being able to be out on the field with his teammates and the physical strain that his head was under. But when it came to getting back into a routine, he found that paying attention in meetings and in practice helped to facilitate the process.

“I tried to do whatever I could to stay involved, so the transition back would not be that gradual and difficult,” he said.

So what kind of advice do athletic trainers have for athletes?

“You prevent the next one by being honest on the first one,” Graves said. “It's more important to manage it than anything. Be smart and be honest with yourself and us. Don't try to be a tough guy when it comes to concussions. The worst that happens is you’ll be done.”

This consequence, however, is very rare for CMS and P-P athletes. There are many more stories like Scamman's and Schiffer’s that give hope to athletes who are honest about reporting their concussion symptoms, so that they can move on to a full recovery and get back in the game.