Jack Simison pushes the ball down the court, dribbling with one hand and directing the offense with the other. Deftly, he passes the ball to a teammate who scores as the crowd leaves its feet to cheer.
Watching Simison play, one would never guess what had happened to him four years ago, when he was trying out for the Palo Alto All-Net Basketball team.
“I just remember looking at one of my friends around half court,” Simison said. “He pump-faked, I jumped to try to block him, my legs caught on his back, I flipped over him and I hit my head on the ground.”
Simison suffered post-traumatic seizures for four minutes before he blacked out. He woke up in the hospital having spent 40 minutes unconscious.
“It was definitely a bad accident,” Simison said. “I sustained a grade III concussion, which is the most serious.”
Simison was forbidden from playing basketball for a month and a half on doctor’s orders, but he was back on the court as soon as he could be. However, something was a little different when he started playing again.
“Beforehand, it never occurred to me that I could get a concussion from playing, but afterwards it made me more cautious and made me second-guess myself,” Simison said.
Luckily, according to Simison, his fear melted away after only a couple of months of playing again.
Maddy Atwater is another Palo Alto High School student who is unfortunately no stranger to basketball related head injuries.
Her first concussion was in eighth grade, four years ago. Her team, the Palo Alto Midnight was practicing in Paly’s small gym, preparing for an upcoming memorial day tournament.
“We were scrimmaging and the ball was rolling towards the wall,” Atwater said. “When I dove to get the ball I hit my eye on the door hinge and my head hit the wall.”
Her father, the coach, took her home where they noticed that she was slurring her words. She went to a doctor, who diagnosed her with a concussion. Atwater ended up playing that weekend anyway, but sat out after being hit in the head again. She now regrets playing so soon.
Since that first concussion, Atwater has suffered four more, while playing for Midnight or the Paly team. Most recently, during the fall of 2014, Atwater was concussed during a Midnight game. This time she sat out for a month.
Atwater and Simison’s injuries are part of a grossly under-discussed subject — concussions in basketball.
Concussions can be caused in basketball through a variety of collisions, whether they are head-to-ball, head-to-head or head-to-floor.
A 2010 study, by the American Academy of pediatrics revealed that over a 10-year period, there has been a 70 percent increase in traumatic brain injuries on the basketball court.
The rise in concussion rates over the past years may be attributed to an increasingly aggressive mindset in players and coaches. Adding to the danger is the lack of awareness of the danger and frequency of concussions in basketball, especially when compared to other sports such as football.
Atwater believes that many concussions in basketball go undetected and undiagnosed.
“I think a lot of the times you get hit in the head … and just keep playing,” Atwater said. “You’d think that with something like that that’s a head injury, you’d want to sit out.”