High School Junior Lia Whitmore remembers being ecstatic during her state soccer championships.
"Being able to play through the whole entire game and actually assisting the winning goal, it was just crazy!" Whitmore said.
But today Whitmore wears protective headgear each time she practices. She explained why.
"I went up for a header and next thing you know I'm on the ground and my coach is walking me off the field," she said.
A concussionduring play almost ended her soccer dreams.
"They said that if I get another concussion I'm going to have to quit playing soccer," she said.
Experts say young athletes who return to play too soon after a concussion risk losing much more than a future in their sport.
"If you've had a concussion and you're back on the field still suffering symptoms from a concussion you're at a much higher risk of having a more devastating head injury, or even death," said Dr. Melvin Field MD. He's Director of the Florida Sports Concussion Program at Florida Hospital.
That's the reason some experts are urging athletes to take a baseline neurological test. Before the season starts, athletes can take a 20 minute computer test that measures things like memory, and reaction time.
"God forbid they have a concussion, then they have something to compare it to," said Dr. Field, explaining the usefulness of the baseline test.
An athlete who had a concussion would then be re-tested. Scores would need to be at pre-concussion levels before the athlete could return to play. It's just one tool. The athlete would need to pass symptom and exertion tests before getting back in the game too. The concussion tests can run about thirty five dollars per athlete. Michael Dougherty, Manager of the Athletic Trainer Program at Florida Hospital said it's worth the cost.
"You're protecting what's going to be their money maker and their future, and that's what's going to be what's between their ears," Dougherty said.
For athletes like Lia Whitmore, protecting heads means protecting goals both on and off the field.
It's possible for an athlete to intentionally do poorly on the baseline test so he or she can go back to play after a head injury. Coaches, parents, and doctors need to talk to players about the consequences of that choice.
Seattle Children's offers impact testing to schools in the area. To learn more call the Children's Athletic Trainers Program at 206-987-5045. You can also learn more at the Seattle Sports Concussion Program at Harborview.