In this 2017 file photo, a University of South Carolina football player is treated after suffering a head injury during a game. Credit: AP File | AP

A $475,000 grant from the National Football League will help the Maine Concussion Management Initiative expand its data-collection efforts as it seeks to address the prevalence of the injury among young athletes statewide.

MCMI, based at Colby College in Waterville, will use the four-year grant to supplement its Head Injury Tracker program that has been used for the past five years to gather concussion-related information at approximately 40 high schools around the state.

The grant will allow for further study of the broad spectrum of concussion in young athletes, including identifying predictors of recovery and possible long-term effects.

“Our goal is to be able to identify individual risk factors for students for prolonged recovery, and in the perfect world allow us to start to understand how we can start to create strategies to reduce concussions,” MCMI director Dr. Paul Berkner said.

MCMI has collected data on more than 88,000 baseline preseason tests, more than 18,000 post-injury tests, and specific data related to nearly 1,500 college, high school and middle-school students.

The NFL grant will allow for significant expansion of that effort, in part by reaching out to all 150 high schools in Maine and offering athletic trainers a stipend for reporting concussion-related information in real time, and by providing a more efficient and effective way of collecting that information.

“Our goal for this project is to get as many high schools in the state reporting as possible,” Berkner said. “We have funding for basically all of the high schools in Maine, and our goal is to improve the data collection.”

Bruce Maxwell, a professor of computer science at Colby, has developed a mobile-friendly platform for a web-based concussion assessment tool that will allow for the recording of data at the scene that includes type of injury, scenario at the time the athlete was hurt and resulting symptoms.

As many as one-third of Maine high schools lack athletic trainer services, but Berkner said the reporting process may be employed effectively by other school personnel.

“The platform we use is very user-friendly and can be used by other school professionals, specifically school nurses, so there are other options for gathering this information in schools that don’t have an athletic trainer,” Berkner said.

“The stipend is to value that work, their time and their efforts around improving the health of our youth,” he said.

MCMI has been pursuing means of collecting more concussion-related data since the organization was founded in 2009, and Berkner believes this grant will help boost the volume of information available to aid in the understanding and management of concussions when they occur.

“The goal is to provide schools the tools so they can better manage their own concussions,” he said.

Plans called for the updated effort to be rolled out when the 2019-20 academic year begins next September.

“The problem is that each school by itself does not have enough data to be able to effectively look at their incidence and prevalence of concussions,” Berkner said. “Our role here is to be able to collect and look at enough data from around the state so we can actually start reducing concussions.

“And it’s not just around football. There’s all this energy and effort around football, but I would really like to focus on all sports and improving outcomes for all youth who suffer head injuries.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...