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Coaches, doctors, manufacturers to form group to study concussions, brain trauma

A group of coaches, doctors, equipment manufacturers and parents will study concussions and brain trauma injuries, hoping to consolidate information that will make all sports safer.

The National Sports Concussion Cooperative was formed Monday by the American Football Coaches Association; the University of North Carolina’s traumatic brain injury research centre; the Matthew Gfeller Foundation; and Rawlings Sporting Goods.

The group will gather leaders from key industries and focus groups dealing with such injuries. Its first meeting is scheduled for early May.

Grant Teaff, executive director of the AFCA and a former Baylor football coach, called the opportunity to engage in such dialogue “rare and welcome.”

“These are four separate stakeholders who all have different investments to make in our game and all sports,” he said. “I am particularly excited by the science; there has not been sufficient scientific information about concussions.”

The Gfeller foundation was formed by the parents of Matthew Gfeller, a high school sophomore who died of football-related brain injuries in 2008. North Carolina’s sports-related research centre is named in his memory.

Bob Gfeller, Matthew’s father, sees the coalition as having “a bigger impact to improve safety on the field by bringing all key parties together.” That doesn’t apply just to football, according to Dr. Jason Mihalik of the UNC research centre.

“A kid plays ice hockey and sees Sidney Crosby is out for months with a concussion,” Mihalik said. “They start to wonder about this. They say it is something to take seriously.

“Kids who play football and hockey and see what the NFL and NHL are going through in regard to concussions, and parents who are asking the questions if this or whatever sport is a safe sport, all of those things are coalescing.”

Mihalik, the Gfellers and Teaff hope to create a sort of clearinghouse for information on sports-related brain injuries. Mihalik encourages all doctors and medical researchers to join the effort. Teaff wants to enlist coaching organizations.

Rawlings President Robert Parish sees the NSCC as a group that can look at concussions from all angles and urge specific measures.

Those would include guidelines for practice and returning to play after a concussion; teaching and coaching techniques; medical research findings and suggestions; and equipment design.

“There is no panacea to answer concussions, but we can make incremental steps with multiple parties working together,” Parish said.

The hope is the NSCC will grow into an international organization with input from anyone who deals with the prevention and treatment of brain injuries.

“We now have that melting pot of people who can disseminate the information,” Mihalik said. “The agenda here is injury prevention. Helmet manufacturers, no matter their business agenda, they won’t sell a helmet without it being safe. For parental groups, it’s how to make this sport safer to play. For clinical research, my goal is to transform data into playing rules and safer equipment and how kids recognize the injuries they suffer. It will all trickle down to preventing brain injuries.”