An NBC 5 investigation discovered how many student athletes have had concussions in North Texas, even though the state organization that governs Texas school sports isn’t keeping a complete count.
The NFL now counts concussions each time they happen, looking for ways to prevent them in the future. But The University Interscholastic League, which oversees extracurricular academic, athletic and music activities in Texas public schools, does not track concussions at all schools for all sports.
NBC 5 Investigates found the UIL only collects concussion reports from a sample of high school football teams statewide.
In 2014 the UIL reported 295 football concussions from 263 schools that were sampled. But NBC 5 Investigates learned that in that same year there were a greater number of concussions reported by high school football players in just the DFW Metroplex compared to the UIL’s state sample.
This summer, NBC 5 Investigates requested concussion records, broken down by sport, from 41 DFW area school districts. The records reveal just how often concussions are happening, not just in boys sports, but girls as well.
NBC 5 Investigates found more than 2,500 concussions in one school year in all sports combined at high schools and middle schools in those 41 North Texas districts.
Records added up across area districts show 223 concussions were reported in boy’s high school soccer and 145 concussions in boy’s high school basketball with another 183 in girl’s high school soccer, 121 in girls softball and 62 concussions in cheerleading.
When asked if he was concerned about the state’s sample not showing the full picture of the severity of the problem, UIL Assistant Director Jamey Harrison said the UIL is “worried that we need to do more in the area of data collection. But that doesn't mean we have found a solution yet.”
Harrison said UIL currently uses national data to examine the issue, and added that the league has already developed a strict protocol that governs when players can return to play after a concussion.
Senica Cruz was sidelined from playing soccer after she suffered two hits to the head in a week. The second hit forced her to sit out after she was diagnosed with a concussion.
The first hit was captured on video that showed Cruz colliding with another player going to head butt the ball in a club game.
Afterward, Cruz said she suffered from persistent, unrelenting headaches that were there when she went to sleep and were there when she woke the next morning.
“It’s a brain injury,” said Ken Locker, with Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine in Fort Worth.
Research shows kids’ brains take longer to heal than adults.
“It’s not a dinger or a bell ringer or a concussion, it’s a mild, traumatic brain injury. That’s why it’s serious,” said Locker.
Experts said if you want to prevent concussions in sports it helps to start counting how often they happen. The NFL did that, by pinpointing places in the game where concussions happen most. Then they made rule changes like moving the ball forward just five yards on kick-off to cut the number of high speed collisions on kick returns.
Data shows concussions in games have come down 36 percent over three years.
UT Southwestern Dr. Hunt Batjer, co-chair of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, said he would like to help the UIL begin collecting data from all high school sports for both boys and girls.
Batjer added that collecting data from all teams can help a league see if one team has more problems than others, such as issues with equipment or coaching techniques that might cause more concussions. That would then allow officials who oversee the sport to make changes that can better protect players.
“Rules matter. Policies matter,” said Batjer.
But the UIL doesn’t collect data from all sports or even all schools.
Harrison said the UIL is working with legal counsel and members of the medical community to determine how to best create a system that tracks numbers from all sports and schools.
“Whether or not that's our program that we conduct or whether that's someone else conducting it and partnering with them I don't have the answer yet. That's an ongoing conversation”, Harrison said.
In our research, NBC 5 Investigates learned that many school districts already keep their own concussion statistics for all sports, such as the Denton Independent School District which looks at the numbers with its own team of doctors.
“If [the] UIL or anybody needs it in the future, we have it,” said Joey Florence, Denton ISD athletic director. “I love football and I understand the value of athletics for our kids. But we also have an obligation to make sure we are looking after their safety too.”
NBC 5 Investigates found some states are already collecting more statewide data. In Massachusetts, for example, all schools are required to report concussions for all sports to the state health department.
We’ve posted concussion statistics for some North Texas school districts below and we’ll keep following this story to see if the state makes changes.