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Eric Fazio scored 1,029 points during his collegiate career. For several hours, however, he only remembered 988 of them. Fazio is a forward for the Keene State College Men’s Basketball team, and he sustained a concussion the same game he reached the 1,000 point milestone during the Owls’ contest against Eastern Connecticut College. Fazio still has no memory from the time he was knocked unconscious to the time he woke up in the hospital hours later. While he was carried off the court on a stretcher, Fazio walked into the KSC basketball record books, becoming one member of a trio of teammates to reach the 1,000 point mark throughout their careers. This is only the second time in KSC history a triad of players has accomplished this feat, after three teammates in the 1988-1989 season reached the same goal.
“It’s the greatest feeling to be a part of that prestigious 1000-point club group. I come into the gym and I look at all the plaques of the names in the gym and soon my name will be up there and people will remember me,” Fazio said.
Fazio, while celebrating his accomplishment, was also contending with the recovery from his concussion. The world of sports has taken a closer look at concussions and their damaging effects, including the NFL’s institution of stricter penalties on players for helmet-to-helmet contact as well as the NCAA’s injury and concussion monitoring system. According to ncaa.org, estimates suggest that between 1.6 and 3.5 million concussions occur every year as a result of sports-related activities. However, the study doesn’t account for possible under-reporting and the different symptoms every athlete experiences while concussed.
According to Bob Merrow, the athletic training coordinator at KSC, concussions are a traumatic brain injury, sustained after a forceful bump, jolt or a blow to the head that alters the way in which the brain functions. Concussions are difficult to detect because the symptoms are varied and may show up immediately after the incident or it can show up hours or weeks later. The symptoms include loss of consciousness, headaches, general confusion, fuzzy vision, issues with balance, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, slow reaction time, difficulty concentrating as well as amnesia.
“There is a major change in the metabolic function of the brain after a concussion. Each athlete has to be looked at differently,” Merrow said. Merrow said he doesn’t see too many concussions per year, around ten, but there has been a major shift in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions. Some athletes may be symptom-free the day after it happens, but another athlete could take two weeks to become free from the symptoms of a concussion.
Another KSC athlete, junior Hayley Kenyon, is no stranger to concussions. Kenyon is a forward and outside midfielder for the women’s soccer team and couldn’t play a few games this past season as a result of a concussion. “I went up for a header, I got an elbow to the back of the head. I landed on my back and I remember it all happening, but I was shaken up when it happened,” she said. “The trainer started asking me questions and I wasn’t answering right away. I got up with the help of my teammates and walked off fine.” Kenyon said that after a trainer assessed her and gave her some tests to complete, the trainer still thought Kenyon might have gotten a concussion.
The following Monday, Kenyon said she started to get headaches and had to sit out for about a week, so she missed a few games. “The trainers were really helpful. I didn’t go to the hospital; they were right on top of the issue,” she said.
Kenyon said after, she was timid about going up for headers during a game, but she just had to get over it.
Also familiar with concussions is athletic trainer and vice president of the women’s club rugby team, junior J.J. Desrochers. As a member of a club sport, Desrochers and her teammates don’t have the luxury of being an NCAA-affiliated sport and what comes along with it–concussion pre-screening tests and assistance from the KSC athletic training staff. While they are required to have trainers at every game, Desrochers said they have to hire EMT’s and trainers to be on hand during games and the money to pay these trainers comes from their club’s own funds, whereas the assistance and medical care is free for NCAA-affiliated athletes. Desrochers said an EMT needs to be present at every home game in a season (about three or four), and the total cost of hiring the certified medic is around $1,000 per season. Rugby is a very physical sport, and Desrochers has had her fair share of injuries playing the high contact game.
“I’ve personally sprained both my ankles, gotten two concussions, sprained my shoulder and cracked two ribs,” she said. Without insurance, any sort of medical bill is the injured rugby player’s problem.
Desrochers said her injuries have spanned seven years, as she played in high school. Her first concussion occurred in high school and her second one sustained in college was more severe, as she was knocked unconscious. Desrochers said in her dual role as an athletic training major and as a rugby player, it’s often frustrating to see her teammates get hurt because from a legal standpoint, she’s not certified to help them out.
“I can’t legally help anyone on my team. I can help out with first aid, but that’s about it. It’s really frustrating. We do a lot more than other sports do but we don’t get the help that we need,” she said. Desrochers said the rugby team is trying to get NCAA-affiliated, but for now, the club sport remains just that–a club.
A concussion or injury in an NCAA recognized sport is a different story. When men’s basketball player Eric Fazio went into the Eastern Connecticut game, he said his coach told him not to get overly excited or anxious about reaching 1,000 points in that game, but Fazio said he was feeling good.
It was on a free throw that he got his career defining point, but only four possessions later, he was on the floor of the basketball court, unconscious. Fazio took a charge and fell to the court while teammate Montel Walcott went up to block the ball off the back board and came down, landing on Fazio’s face.
“I was knocked out. I was in a daze. I woke up in the hospital feeling nauseous and with a headache,” Fazio said. He came to while being carried away on the stretcher, but he doesn’t remember it. He also doesn’t remember speaking with his mother who was at the game.
“I was talking to a coach about how I’d like to score the thousandth point at our next game, a home game with the home crowd. He was like, don’t hold back, just push it. Imagine if I didn’t get it and I couldn’t have come back to play,” Fazio said. He missed two games but was able to come back in for the LEC championship game against Rhode Island College.
Merrow said when he started his work at KSC in the athletic training program 27 years ago, Fazio’s concussion would have been called “a bell ringer.” “We’ve gone through many, many changes in how we determine what a concussion is.”
The term, a casual brush-off of the injury, is completely retired in medical jargon. The most recently used term now is a mild brain injury instead of concussion. Merrow acknowledged the increasing awareness and information that has come forth on the injury in recent years.
The NCAA doesn’t have a written rule when it comes to concussions, according to Athletic Director John Ratliff. “What the NCAA provides is guidelines. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules for concussions.” Ratliff said, however, there is a much more heightened awareness for concussions. Ratliff said all athletes have to have a pre-screening test for concussions, a baseline that provides the athletic trainers with a yardstick on which to measure the severity of a concussion if an athlete sustains one. Merrow emphasizes that the NCAA mandates that colleges need to have a plan in order to treat concussions. “If an athlete has any indication they have a concussion in practice or in a game, we pull them immediately,” he said. “The plan of action is how are we going to evaluate them to determine if they have a concussion and we have to have a process of gradual return to play.” When athletes have no symptoms of a concussion, they must complete a five stage process before going back to practice for high intensity physical activity.
“I feel pretty comfortable with what our athletic training room is doing, making sure that we’re doing what’s in the best interest of student athletes’ safety,” Ratliff said. Ratliff also explained the athletic training department was aware of the effects of a concussion “before it was popular to be cognizant of it,” he said.
“A lot of the new tools that are out there to screen for concussion are computerized. One program is called Impact and it’s a neuro-psychology evaluation tool to check the brain. Schools with football and hockey have those systems in place,” Merrow said. While KSC doesn’t have those contact sports, Merrow said he feels their return to play protocols “have served us very, very well.”
Merrow said despite the budget and size of a particular college’s athletic training program, if they have NCAA-affiliated sports, they must follow the guidelines the NCAA provides. Purdue University has conducted an on-going study that determines how much force football players and soccer players experience while being tackled or going up for a header. The study has determined that lasting damaging effects are caused by repeated blows to the head as opposed to one single blow to the head, so athletes involved in physical contact sports have an increased risk of physical and psychological damage the longer they play.
“The Purdue study is looking at it and seeing that, over time, the average college football player is hitting their head at significant G-forces a 1000 times per season. Their recommendation is how to limit those opportunities,” he said. According to Physics professor Susan Romano, athletes face high levels of g-forces in play without the help of safety equipment that straps them in, like a roller coaster.
The Purdue study suggests limiting the number of times a week a player is dealing with this high volume of contact. Right now, “the NCAA is not taking action because the football coaches want as much contact as they can. I think it’s a tremendous idea to limit that contact during the week,” Merrow said.
As far as other preventive measures, women’s soccer player Hayley Kenyon said something worn on the head during the game might get in the way of play. She mentioned a foam headpiece worn by her team’s goalie to prevent concussions, but “going up for a header, the ball may go a different way than what you intended,” she said. “It’s a good protective measure, but I’m just not sure if it’s practical.”
Merrow also agrees with Kenyon that helmets and protective equipment are not the best answer.
“Typically, what we’ve been looking at is helmets. What happens during a concussion is the brain shakes around in there. Even with a helmet on, it can only offer a certain degree of protection,” he said. “If you’re hit hard enough with a helmet, the brain still wiggles around, causing a concussion,” he said.
Kenyon’s suggestion for a possible solution was tighter calls from the referees, but it can only do so much to protect athletes. “Definitely enforcing the rules is important and following the rules for the athletes is important. We’re definitely in a situation where there can be dramatic changes in sports,” Merrow said. In addition to efficient enforcement of the rules of the game, Merrow acknowledged that there are other ways to help prevent concussions.
“The best thing we can do is proper skills, proper technique, strengthen the neck for sports like soccer. The strength in the neck and head is very important,” Merrow said. “Making sure you don’t use you head with a helmet on it as a weapon. We still don’t have the answers to completely prevent a concussion.”
The issue, however, isn’t just in the world of sports. Many states are adopting legislation to help protect athletes from concussions, on the high school level and the college level as well. Particularly in New Hampshire, House Bill 402 was passed in August of last year, a measure to protect athletes at the high school level. The bill on freeconcussion.org, states that all high schools throughout New Hampshire must have some sort of system in place in order to diagnose concussions and to treat them. The bill also requires schools to disseminate important about concussions and their harmful effects, so throughout all levels of play, athletes can be protected from the damaging effects as a result of minor brain injuries.
Merrow said irreversible changes can be the result of multiple concussions, and can lead to fading memory, altered memory, personality changes, constant headaches and some people may become violent. The brain changes over time as a result of the constant impact. It affects their academic life and could result in changes in how they learn and study.
Whitney Cyr can be contacted at