Mike Kelly

Mike Kelly

AMERY – Whether or not it helps prevent concussions, Mike Kelly still knows the benefits. 

Kelly – the Amery wrestling coach – speaks from experience regarding the use of mouthpieces in wrestling. Now with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) examining and implementing rules to address potential concussions during events, some area coaches see the use of mouthpieces becoming mandatory in the future. But, Kelly isn’t waiting for an obligation to promote their use. 

“I wish I would have worn it sooner when I was wrestling, both in high school and college,” Kelly said. “If (WIAA) could prove there’s a significant benefit to preventing concussions with them, maybe it will become mandatory. But I think mouthpieces are good, personally.

“I wish I’d be introduced to them earlier because I had a few chipped teeth and they may not be a big deal at first, but those chips lead to bigger problems.”

While the mouthpiece option is up for study and debate, WIAA already implemented rules for the current season in an effort to identify and treat concussions, aiming to at least avoid further ramifications for the competitor. The most significant change was made to the injury timeout for wrestlers sustaining head or neck contact during a match. 

“Any contestant who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion – such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems – shall immediately (be) removed from the match and shall not return to competition until cleared by an appropriate healthcare professional,” as stated in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s updated rule. “(These) injury timeouts will be used in all competition regarding injuries to the head and neck, involving (the) cervical column and/or nervous system.”

Such instances now allow for five minutes of injury time, rather than the usual 90 seconds, so the wrestler can have such an examination. While coaches like Kelly often see concussion-causing contact occurring in other sports, he is aware of certain situations that wrestlers are more susceptible to sustaining such an injury. 

“When they’re trying to escape, when their arms are strapped and they get lifted, possibly a hit on the head or on a takedown – you can get hit hard, or hit yourself hard,” he said. “Just from experience, I think (concussions) happen a lot less in wrestling than other sports.

“I’ve talked to soccer and basketball coaches to ask why a player is out. I often hear it’s ‘because they butted heads on the field or hit their head on the floor. I’ve heard a lot more of those, than I have in wrestling.”

But he does recall a specific practice last year, when a move led to contact that was obviously an instance for the wrestler to seek examination for a concussion. Since it did not happen during a meet, the five-minute rule wasn’t necessary though the ensuing time away from the mat showed how serious the results can be.

“One wrestler shot and hit his head on the other wrestler’s knee,” he said. “That wrestler was out for probably two weeks.

“In wrestling, you often can kind of see it before it happens. Someone gets out of position or someone shoots and the other wrestler doesn’t react quickly enough, so there certainly are instances where it could happen and it’s not just during a game or meet.”

And when it did happen during an Amery meet this season, Kelly didn’t rely strictly on the five-minute examination. 

“We had someone hit their head this year and did the concussion protocol,” he said. “We just defaulted the match and it was in a semifinal. He was then taken to the trainer for more testing without being in a rush. 

“After the test we were good to go and he ended-up third, but at the time it happened we were like ‘why risk it?’ If he has a head injury, it’s not like he’d miraculously come back and win the match at that point.”

Kelly is for any additional measures that are proven to be beneficial in deterring such injuries, though he knows some steps can be taken by teams before the meet even starts and that contact sports will never be completely free of injury risk. 

“I’m a proponent of strengthening the head and neck area because those injuries are less likely to happen if you’re strong in those areas,” he said. “But no matter what, there always will be a risk in contact sports.”

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