It was hard to take a positive stance on concussion avoidance in Orange County Schools on Oct. 23, but Emily Gaddy tried her best to.
Gaddy, the athletic trainer at Orange High School, presented for OCS’ annual concussion and head injury report. She works with the junior varsity and varsity football teams at Orange High School, which had that had two concussions at their Oct. 12 and 13 games.
Senior running back Marvante Beasley was rushed onto an ambulance after a helmet-to-helmet injury; he was out of the hospital by Oct. 14 and cleared to play for the following week.
The same cannot be said for Thys Oldenburg, a 14-year-old who remains in a medically-induced coma head. Oldenburg took a hit to the head Oct. 12 at a football junior varsity game.
Since the accident, there has been a GoFundMe page for his medical expenses that has raised over $24,000. People have held dinners, made prayer blankets and left messages of support all over the fundraiser page.
Oldenburg was not mentioned by name at the board meeting; neither was Beasley. But they weighed on everyone's mind as Orange County School Board Chairperson Steve Halkiotis addressed Gaddy before the report.
"And I think I can say on behalf of the entire board, thank you for what you do. And what you do, day in and day out, tirelessly,” Halkiotis said.
Gaddy’s presentation outlined a study Orange High School is participating in with the UNC Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. The center is named after a high school football player who died as the result of a helmet-to-helmet collision in his first varsity football game.
The center is working with four local high schools, including Orange High and Cedar Ridge High School in OCS, by installing sensors (with parent permission) in the team’s football helmets.The helmet data helps the center identify “at-risk” students for concussions.
There are three risk factors that are considered before a player is recommended for intervention: a large number of high-magnitude hits, which are defined as the head moving at 60 Gs (gravity) or more; having 20 percent or more of hits occur on the top of the head, which means that players are improperly lowering their heads during collisions; and sustaining a concussion during play.
Once players have met one of these criteria, they are considered for intervention — a one-on-one training with former football players and coaches who will look over filmed games or practices with them and show them how to correct their behavior in collisions. One student reduced his impact force from 90 Gs to 11 Gs after intervention.
However, there’s a good chance that Thys, like many JV athletes, would not have had this opportunity. A crucial portion of intervention is watching film — something that’s “tricky” for non-varsity players, according to Gaddy, because UNC crews only come out to film varsity games.
“In terms of filming, and things like that, it's for varsity,” Gaddy said. “But if a JV player meets the requirements for intervention and we have the film where we can show them how to correct themselves, from filming practices and things like that, then they are (recommended for intervention).”
However, younger players may still receive guidance from coaches.
“We're developing relationships between our high school coaches and middle school coaches, so they're sharing information and making sure that the proper technique is taught,” District Athletic Director Bob Hill said.