Iowa Concussion Consortium aims to prep school districts, health care providers for new state concussion law

CORALVILLE, Iowa (KCRG) - Teachers, athletic trainers, and health care providers are looking to tackle how to handle concussions. At a conference Thursday, speakers expressed the need for all of them to work together to address student-athletes.

Many athletes and families may want to see a star in the making- but if an athlete suffers a concussion, they need not just the schools and health care providers to help- they need the families involved, too.

The need to include student-athletes, and getting them to buy in to new state regulations, was best personified by a former high-school football standout that now works with the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa.

"[I] didn't want to keep sitting out, so I kept playing," said Dakota Zientek, who played his high school football in Illinois, but now serves as the Communication and Outreach Assistant for the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa. "And then that ultimately gave me some neuro-psychological issues does the road."

Like many high school stars, Zientek wanted to go pro. However, since almost all of those athletes will not sign a professional contract any time soon, the conference served as a way to explain the importance of Iowa's new standards that started July 1.

Governor Kim Reynolds signed regulations into law in 2018, ensuring student-athletes are eased back both on the field and in the classroom, referred to as ready-to-play and ready-to-learn protocols.

"These are students before they're athletes," said Jill Kienzle, a certified athletic trainer who serves as the trainer at South Tama High School. "So it's kind of a no-brainer. You have to get them back in the classroom because they have to use their brain the rest of their life."

"We need to be able to have that kind of communication around kids with brain injury, which is what a concussion is so that they have the best outcomes possible," said Geoffrey Lauer, the Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa.

The message to implement solid strategies and the ways to do it was relayed by many speakers- even former stars like Zientek admit the knowledge was necessary.

"A brain's way more important than a college offer or going big time," Zientek said. "And to just know that it's okay to put the pads away."

Lauer said school districts like Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Waterloo have already been working to implement a return-to-play or return-to-learn policy. Now those plans are mandated by law to expand across the state.