- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - High school football in Minnesota has changed rapidly in recent years, with a new focus on safety as concern over concussions and other injuries rises, but a months-long reporting project found some schools aren’t doing as much as others to protect student athletes.

The project by Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1otPkUg) and KARE-TV found a disparity in the way schools continually track injuries, survey cognitive ability before and after injury, and provide information about safety and head injuries. High school football programs also differ in the amount of money invested in better equipment and reduction of contact during practices.

The two news outlets sought information about schools’ football programs, including policies and budgets, from more than 100 districts.

Overall, the project determined a state law passed in 2011 has raised awareness of the short and long-terms risks associated with concussions. In light of the increased awareness, hundreds of players have been pulled from games and practices, game rules have been changed and parents have been more involved in their children’s experiences as student athletes.

“I think that concussion management in high school in Minnesota has changed quite considerably over the past few years. I think it’s gotten a lot better and I think mainly it’s education and awareness,” said Dr. Mark Gormley, a Pediatric Rehabilitation Specialist at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. “I think people are aware that when you have a concussion you are damaging the brain, and if you do that repetitively over a period of time you can cause permanent brain damage.”

Gormley, a youth concussion expert, examined the information Minnesota school districts provided to MPR News. He determined that most high schools are complying with the law that requires sports officials to remove players from a game or practice when they exhibit symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion. But Gormley noted that the responses indicate some schools are complying in different ways.

Dr. Ron Tarrel, a neurologist with Noran Neurological Clinic in Minneapolis, also analyzed survey responses. He suggests districts follow more uniform practices, especially in terms of tracking injuries, providing information about risk and equipment monitoring procedures.

“It’s not about pointing fingers,” Tarrel said. “It’s not about finding faults. It’s about accumulating data to continue to refine and put together the best law that gives you the best awareness, the best preventions, the best treatment, best outcome for their athletes.”

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