I spoke with Cherry Hill High School West Athletic Director John Laird, and he was incredibly helpful and friendly. I really didn’t have to say much; as soon as I sat down, he started talking. It wasn’t long before we got on the topic of concussions, which we spent most of our time discussing. He told me it was just two years ago that New Jersey instated a law that requires a doctor’s permission to return to school (and, consequently, sports play) after suffering a concussion. He made it a point to say New Jersey is very blessed to have this law in place, as well as to have the resources within the school district to treat these injuries.
So, for example, on the day I saw him, he told me during the sports games, he would drive around the school fields on his golf cart between the lacrosse, tennis and baseball and softball games to monitor all the players. If someone gets hurt while he away from a field, he’s just a cell phone call away. If he suspects someone is concussed, he gives a SCAT III test, or Sports Concusssion Assessment Tool. This test involves a gamut of physical stability tests, as well as vision and memory tests. The tricky and dangerous part about these tests is that symptoms can reside within a matter of minutes. So, if he deems a player requires medical attention, he will call a parent to call a doctor. He made it very clear to me that he does not have the authority to refer students to doctors, he can only recommend doctors. The problem lies in the doctor not seeing the symptoms the athletic trainer saw 20 minutes before and the doctor believing the student is safe to return to play. This could lead to Second-Impact Syndrome if the student takes another hard hit.
Mr. Laird demonstrates to his students the effect impacts can have on their brains by tapping a plate of Jell-O with a spoon, causing it to vibrate. “That’s your brain,” he says, and you’ve only got one. “It’s your essence,” he says, so no amount of injuries is worth risking for your entire being.
He says concussion awareness is greater now than ever, and may even lead to the death of high school football (though he can’t be certain). Like Mr. Burns, Mr. Laird wants to instill his students with a sense of belonging and putting them on the right tracks for their future. He’s there to help them with not only their health, but through their “development as a human being.”