Western Duluth Little League Incorporates Concussion Tests

Baihly Warfield
May 15, 2017 10:39 PM

The grass is green, and the baseball bats are swinging again. And this season, the Western Duluth Little League is prepared for potential concussions. 

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Coaches will be using the King-Devick test, administered on an iPad, to decide if a player might need to go to the hospital for further concussion evaluations. 

"We see kids take hits all the time. We see them take a foul ball and take it to the helmet as a catcher. We see kids collide in the outfield," Kari Bulthuis, safety officer for the Little League's board, said. 

Bulthuis bought the King-Devick program to test her own kids. 

"I work as a speech language pathologist, and so I work with brain injury every day," Bulthuis said. "And so it really hits home for me."

She wanted to bring it to more kids, so she applied for a grant from Essentia Health. The company donated $4,170, enough to buy a new AED defibrillator, seven iPads, and enough tests for each player this year. 

"I just think anything that we can do to help better the community and help kids like this who are just starting out and keep them safe, I think it's great," Essentia Health Vice President of Community Health and Wellness Ron Alston said. 

Each player will take the test, which involves reading the numbers off of four screens out loud without following along with your finger. Their preseason test result serves as the baseline. If a player takes a hit, the coach can pull them out and have them take the test again. If they are missing numbers or it takes them longer than their baseline score, the coach can keep them out of the game and send them to the doctor for evaluation. 

"It's really hard to rely on kids and their own reporting because they don't want to come out of the game," Bulthuis said. "They're there to play; they don't want to have a concussion. They know that means they're out for awhile and they don't get to do what they love."

Two of the 180 players that will take the test said it increased in difficulty as it went along, but it still took them each less than a minute. 

"It was kind of hard towards the end, but in the beginning, it was easy," Brady Zupec said. 

"It was really easy at the beginning because they were a lot more spread out and big," Gavin Bulthuis said, "and then they got smaller and more together as you went. And it was a lot harder to just keep them going."

The tests usually cost $20 per player. Bulthuis said based on the socioeconomic status of many of their players, the company that makes the test offered it to them for $10 each. That is covered by the Essentia grant this year, and next year it will be included in the registration fee. 

Western Duluth Little League is the first in Minnesota to incorporate the King-Devick test at this level. MLB, NHL and NFL teams already us it. 

Roger Peterson, a board member and coach of 15 years, said he's seen a shift in the emphasis on safety. 

"There's a general feeling throughout all sports that we need to take care of the players," Peterson said. "It's a good transition, a more safer time."

He said now, coaches are better educated and know what to look for. But sometimes, taking a child out of a game is still a judgment call. The King-Devick test will make it more black and white. And that will keep everyone safer. 

"It's not just my two kids I'm worried about," Kari Bulthuis said. "These other kids, they become like your family."

The test is good for a year, so as it is incorporated in football and other sports programs, the child's data will be saved. 


Baihly Warfield

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