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Concussion-prevention effort targeting younger athletes

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PHOENIX – Organizers of an effort to reduce and identify concussions in high school sports are appealing to a younger audience with a smartphone-based game geared toward athletes ages 8 to 12.

Barrow Brain Ball, announced Tuesday at Barrow Neurological Institute, expands upon Barrow Brainbook, the interactive online education that the Arizona Interscholastic Association requires for every high school athlete in Arizona.

“We decided to appeal to the interest of youth and created a video game designed to teach kids how to reduce the chances of concussion and reduce injury,” said Dr. Javier Cárdenas, director of Barrow’s Resource for Acquired Injury to the Nervous System (BRAINS) Program.

The free game, to be released for iPhone and Android devices, features helmet-shaped icons that players move around to score points by avoiding collisions with other players. Play also involves going to a simulated classroom to learn about symptoms and signs of concussion in order to advance.

“While the fun part of the game is running up and down the field, they can only advance if they complete the educational sessions as well,” Cárdenas said.

Brainbook stemmed from a 2011 state law requiring that high school athletes be removed from play if a concussion is even suspected and then receive written clearance to return from a medical professional like a physician or athletic trainer. To date, nearly 180,000 high school athletes have completed Brainbook training.

Barrow also created a network, Barrow Concussion Training, offering telemedicine consultations for athletic trainers in remote areas.

Educating even younger players will pay off, Cárdenas said, adding that the younger the athlete, the longer it takes to recover from a concussion, also known as traumatic brain injury.

“TBI is something we have to live with in the game,” he said. “And we cannot prevent a concussion, but we sure can reduce the chances of them.”

Barrow announced the game with the AIA and the Arizona Cardinals.

“We are pleased to see that it [concussion education] has gone down to youth sports,” said Chuck Schmidt, the AIA’s associate executive director.

Michael Bidwill, president of the Cardinals, said he knows that how the NFL addresses the risk of concussions is watched by student athletes at all levels.

“They are going to emulate what the players do and what the coaches do and how they play,” he said.