In 2012, the American Journal of Sports Medicine (AJSM) conducted a study on what has become a prevalent topic in sports at all levels: concussion.
The AJSM found that at the high school level, the number of reported concussions had risen since 2007 and trends suggested concussions would continue to be on the rise if something was not done in preventative response. This study was one of many done over the past 10 years, all of which have been focused on concussion research and specifically what can be done at the youngest levels, to educate athletes of the seriousness of this injury and the importance of reporting concussions as soon as they are sustained.
It was in this vein and with this goal that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) partnered in 2014 on a landmark initiative called the Mind Matters Challenge, which was designed to “create a dynamic in which every head injury is reported and treated, rather than concealed from peers, coaches and commanders.”
This challenge had a two-pronged approach and welcomed two different kinds of proposals for open submission. The first proposal, “Changing Attitude about Concussions in Young and Emerging Adults,” focused on long-term research projects, which were designed to explore and improve overall understanding of how to change the culture of concussion. The second proposal, “Educational Programs Targeting Young and Emerging Adults” was focused on concussion education and the creation of programs and materials which could be immediately implemented.
A team from Chestnut Hill College led by William Ernst, Psy.D., associate professor of psychology and executive director of the new Center for Concussion Education, submitted a proposal under the education focus, through creation of a peer-to-peer model. Under this model, student-athletes from the men’s lacrosse and women’s soccer teams were trained as peer concussion educators to teach their teammates about concussions, facilitating self-reporting and keeping an eye on teammates they believe may have suffered a concussion during a game or practice and ensuring those individuals are treated as soon as possible. According to Ernst, the goal of the CHC Peer Concussion Education Program is to change the culture of concussion from the inside, relying on players to look out for one another as opposed to depending exclusively on outside experts.
In July of 2015, the CHC Peer Concussion Education Program was one of six such programs selected to receive a $25,000 cash prize as well as a $75,000 production budget to develop a demonstration project. Following the completion of the project, a panel of experts from the NCAA and DoD identified the CHC Peer Concussion Education Program as the program most appropriate for further evaluation. They also invited CHC to submit a proposal to conduct a multi-site randomized controlled trial to assist in determining the appropriateness of the program for broad-based dissemination to the NCAA membership.
The strength of the program rests with its interdisciplinary nature, which included collaboration between faculty, staff from the department of athletics, student-athletes and administrators.
“I am proud to announce that Chestnut Hill was selected as the program found appropriate to be granted further study,” said Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, Ph.D., president of Chestnut Hill College in a campus-wide email. “I would like to thank and congratulate the leadership team for their expertise and creativity in developing a concussion program worthy of national recognition. Their innovation has the potential to positively impact the health and well-being of student athletes and military personnel across the country.”
Members of the collaborative leadership team are Ernst, Meredith Kneavel, Ph.D., professor of psychology, Lynn Tubman, M.Ed., director of athletics, Brendan Connell, M.S., assistant athletic trainer, and Lynn Ortale, Ph.D., vice president for student life.
Others deserving of recognition are:
The student-athlete peer concussion educators: Andrew Hildebrand ’17 and Matthew Pedrick ’18 for the men’s lacrosse team and Meghan Guagenti ’18 and Brianna Ferrell ’19 for the women’s soccer team.
Coaching staff: Brian Dougherty, head men’s lacrosse coach, and Sandy Dickson, head athletic trainer.
Support staff: Bethany Paddock, doctoral student, Ellen McGuinn, controller, Kevin McCarthy, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, Kristin Floyd, director of web communications, Chelsea Farren, assistant to the vice president for student life, Don Visher, assistant director for video production, and Christina Abbott, executive director of student financial services.
“We were up against some major competition,” says Ernst. “But we worked collaboratively and I’m extremely proud of our efforts and what we’ve accomplished as a team.”
For more information on the Mind Matters Challenge, please visit their website.
— Marilee Gallagher ’14