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. 

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