Tribune file

As concussions continue to be at the forefront in the issue of sports safety, Arizona Pop Warner is teaming up with Mayo Clinic and taking a proactive step in tackling the concussion problem.

Participants in Arizona Pop Warner’s football and cheer programs ages 10 and older will undergo testing to help diagnose and treat concussions.

The children must complete a baseline test before the start of the season. If a participant has a suspected concussion during practice or a game, he or she is administered a test on the sidelines by a medic. The results of that test are compared to the baseline test to determine whether a participant has indeed suffered a concession.

If it is determined a player has suffered a concussion, he or she is immediately taken out of the game.

“It’s all about getting baseline evaluations with objective tests that are accurate in identifying concussions and being able administer them on the sidelines, accurately diagnosing a concussion to remove them from play,” said Dr. David Dodick, director of the Mayo Clinic Concussion Program.

After a player is removed from the game, he or she will be evaluated by a doctor and the results of that examination are once again compared to the baseline to make sure brain function has returned to normal.

The decision to team up with Arizona Pop Warner came after Dodick was invited to President Obama’s Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit at the White House in May.

The partnership with Mayo Clinic is the latest step that Arizona Pop Warner has taken with the aim of improving safety in football.

Arizona Pop Warner Football and Cheer Commissioner Paul Watkins said the amount of contact in practices has been reduced to only 25 minutes per practice and that all coaches are now Heads Up Football certified.

Heads Up Football is an initiative by USA Football to improve the safety of the game. The components of the certification are: education and certification, equipment fitting, concussion recognition and awareness, heat and hydration, and heads-up tackling.

“We’re kind of redefining or process, trying to make the sport as safe as possible,” Watkins said. “We can’t guarantee there’s not going to be any injuries in sports like football, but we can be proactive in the things that we do, in teaching our kids. Better teaching, better equipment.”

Concussions, essentially a bruising of the brain, are dangerous injuries at any level, but Dodick said they are especially dangerous for youth athletes.

“Because their brains are not fully developed and not fully insulated, it’s more susceptible to structural brain injury that occurs during a concussion,” Dodick said.

Dodick said concussions can lead to several impairments, including social and academic problems. He added, in rare cases, a concussion can lead to brain swelling that can be fatal.

East Valley high school coaches and athletic trainers have taken notice of the new program.

“The safety of the kids is most important,” Chandler football coach Shaun Aguano said. “Anything that can prevent, or gain more knowledge of (concussions) is perfect for me.”

Watkins hopes the new tests will cut down on the traumatic brain injuries and increase the safety of the game. “We’re going to be able to get immediate feedback,” he said. “We’re going to be able to get the newest methods of studying (concussions), and it’s all going to be at our fingertips now that we have a partner like the Mayo Clinic. We’re looking forward to a long-term partnership.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or Follow him on Twitter at @Eric_Smith__.

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