A bill addressing concussions among high school athletes has been introduced by Rep. Morgan Irwin of Enumclaw. At the heart of the legislation is the health of young athletes like these Enumclaw and White River football players. They squared off during the fall in the annual Battle of the Bridge. Photo by Kevin Hanson

A bill addressing concussions among high school athletes has been introduced by Rep. Morgan Irwin of Enumclaw. At the heart of the legislation is the health of young athletes like these Enumclaw and White River football players. They squared off during the fall in the annual Battle of the Bridge. Photo by Kevin Hanson

Rep. Irwin proposes new statewide concussion database

A new bill would have schools send standardized concussion data to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-31.

Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-31.

Homegrown Representative Morgan Irwin has introduced a new bill that would create a central database for reporting high school sport-related concussions.

House Bill 2731, which is currently sitting in the House Education Committee, would have the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) collect data on head injuries sustained in grades 9 through 12, according to a Jan. 22 press release.

“This bill isn’t about trying to limit the number of sports available to students,” Irwin (R-Enumclaw) said in the release. “This is about ensuring everything is being rightfully done to keep students safe, and to potentially prevent head-related injuries in the future.”

Concussions are a growing problem within high school sports in our state and across the country, he continued, thus proving the need for a better data collection system.

A 2019 study published by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics took a look at more than 9,500 concussions between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018.

Unsurprisingly, football had the highest concussion rate at 10.4 concussions for every 10,000 athlete exposures (AE), defined as when an athlete is exposed to the probability of an injury during warm-ups, practice, and games; the study appears to show that game-related concussions are increasing, having gone from 33 per 10,000 AEs to 39 per 10,000 AEs from the 2013-14 school year to the 2017-18 school year.

However, it appears practice-related concussions are falling, having gone from 5.5 to 4.5 concussions per 10,000 AEs over the same time period.

What may raise some eyebrows is the study also appears to show concussion rates were higher in female athletes than males (in sex-comparable sports) — 3.35 to 1.5 concussions per 10,000 AEs respectively. Additionally, female athletes had a larger proportion of recurrent concussions than males, at 9.3 percent to 6.4 percent.

Overall, the study appears to show that concussion rates have been rising, although recurrent concussion rates are falling.

Many, if not all states, have been addressing these issues by passing legislation requiring concussion education, but a 2015 study — this time with the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery — shows preseason concussion education “likely has minimal benefits,” and concluded that “future research focused on changing the culture of concussion reporting is needed.”

In a recent interview, Irwin said many individual school districts want to address the concussion issue effectively, but there’s not a lot of real evidence for what works and what doesn’t, and changes made on local levels tend to be reactionary, as opposed to based on science.

“The trouble researchers are running into is that there’s not a good database that’s clear and consistent that they can go to, to really do some meaningful research,” Irwin continued. “You’ll have some school districts reporting some information, other school districts reporting other information, so you don’t get that clear database.”

Irwin imagines the WIAA would collect data about head injuries and concussions from the hundreds of schools they represent and put it all together, making it available for researchers when that data is needed for a study.

He hopes that the program can be self-sustaining if access to the information comes with a fee.

“We’re not exactly sure how it’ll end up looking in terms of the structure,” Irwin added. “We’re leaving that up to the WIAA, as opposed to trying to dictate that to them.”

However, HB 2731 would mandate schools to send concussion data to the WIAA for aggregation.

“This is data they should be collecting now anyways,” Irwin said. “In fact, a lot of schools are already collecting many pieces of this data, but this would simply standardize the data they they’re collecting and the format in which it’s stored.”

So far, Irwin has observed nothing but support for this program.

“From a sports perspective, trainers want to keep kids safe, and coaches want to win more games,” he said. “If your student athletes are healthy and uninjured, you’re winning more games. Everybody’s got an incentive to get on board with this.”

Schools themselves could also see benefits through their insurance writers, since collecting concussion data to improve school sports reduces the risk of injuries and financial risk to school districts.

“[That] ultimately probably keeps some of these sports alive,” Irwin said. “You’ve got school districts all over the state that are dropping sports because they don’t want the insurance risks.”

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