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Group's goal: Concussion awareness

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

Pierre Khoury doesn't want parents to be so fearful of their children getting concussions that the kids spend their days on the couch playing video games instead of getting some exercise and fresh air.

“There are many ways we can prevent concussions or limit exposure to them,” said Khoury, president of Seneca Valley Junior Football and Cheer Association, a private youth sports group. “Don't take kids out of sports because of concerns. They are safer now than they have been before.”

The junior football program, working with UPMC and others, has developed a comprehensive concussion awareness program. Education and training is mandatory for coaches and team volunteers participating in the youth program, and also gives parents and athletes the opportunity for online training.

Seneca Valley Junior Football and Cheer Association is offering free concussion baseline testing with the UPMC Sports Concussion Program from 9 to 11 a.m. April 27 at the Community College of Allegheny County North Campus. Student athletes must be between 10 and 14, and must not have had a concussion within the last 30 days.

Among the suggestions offered in the program: Early baseline testing, so that if a child is injured, doctors know what their normal physical state is; safer tackling and training techniques; and a doctor's approval before returning to the sport if injured. Coaches also are required to report concussions, and the program will keep a file on that player.

Khoury said some tips are common sense, including having a football player or cheerleader practice the toughest moves at the beginning of practice, instead of at the end when they might be tired and distracted and in more danger of injury.

“No matter what the sport, it can be made safer,” Khoury said.

In July, Pennsylvania began the Safety in Youth Sports Act, which says that public school student athletes who get concussions must be tested before they're allowed to return to the playing field. The Seneca program covers student sports that aren't sponsored by or organized by schools.

Dr. Anthony Kontos, an assistant research director for UPMC's Sports Medicine Concussion Program, said that concussion awareness is important, but it shouldn't lead to fear.

“There's a fine line between good awareness and getting appropriate treatment and awareness to manage concussions,” said Kontos, also an associate professor in Pitt's department of orthopedic surgery. “Sometimes with hyper-awareness, kids and parents can become like they're searching for a concussion” even when the injury is mild. “But I'd rather have that side of things than where people don't understand the injury at all.”

The federal Brain Injury Association estimates that 20,000 school-age children get concussions each year in Pennsylvania.

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