BOISE, Idaho -- Nearly 450 Idaho prep athletes who competed last fall in football, soccer and volleyball were held out of games or missed practice because of confirmed or potential concussions, according to a new survey.
The survey was conducted by the Boise-based Idaho High School Activities Association, the governing body for all prep sports and high schools statewide. The survey was sent to all schools, but data compiled in the findings are based on responses from just 45 percent, or 68, schools from all competitive class levels.
Football was by far the leading sport for missed games or practices, with 307 football players missing action during the season last fall, according to a story published Friday in the Idaho Statesman. Girls soccer ranked second, followed by boys soccer and volleyball.
IHSAA Executive Director John Billetz said the fresh data will help establish a baseline to track changes and trends for head injuries. He also said the information help the IHSAA decide if more training and precautions are necessary for certain sports, and surveys will be conducted for winter and spring sports as well.
"We need to start creating a database and seeing if we have one sport that's actually higher than another or if there is an increase in a particular area or something like that," Billetz said. "At least we'll have some information that will help drive why we're doing what we are doing."
The biggest disparity -- the difference in numbers between boys and girls soccer players -- is in line with national studies. In gender-comparable sports, such as soccer, multiple national studies have shown that girls suffer a higher rate of concussions than boys.
The survey showed that 72 girls were held out of soccer action last fall, compared to 38 boys.
The higher rate of head injuries in girls is typically explained by the structural differences in the head and neck area of boys and girls. But female athletes also tend to be more honest about reporting injuries than their male counterparts.
Rocky Mountain High girls soccer coach Donal Kaehler has devoted time researching the topic, but isn't convinced the two theories tell the complete story.
"I think it is absolutely the way that boys and girls approach the game. ... It's not just concussions, it's other injuries, too. Sprains, joint, and obviously ACLs, all those things are higher with the girls game than the boys game," said Kaehler, citing a 2010-11 study presented by the Center for Injury Research & Policy.
Kaehler said four of his players had concussions this past season. He emphasizes that injury prevention in general -- and not just concussions -- should continue to be a priority.
"They're kids, you know? They're 14 to 18. They've got a lot of years left," Kaehler said. "They can't afford those kinds of injuries. ... We need to take better care of our kids regardless of what happens with the outcome of the game."
As concussion awareness and prevention measures have intensified recently, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill in 2010 requiring the State Board of Education to collaborate with the IHSAA to disseminate guidelines and information on the risks of head injuries to coaches, athletes and parents. The concussion surveys sent out this school year are a part of that ongoing process, officials said.