Deciphering San Diego Unified's Mixed Messages on La Jolla Concussion
San Diego Unified has pledged changes to how suspected concussions are handled, dismissed an assistant coach and says an investigation is ongoing. Despite all those changes, the district still says La Jolla High coaches and trainers handled the situation appropriately the night a player suffered a life-altering brain injury.
Almost three months after a La Jolla High School student received a serious head injury during a junior varsity football game, San Diego Unified officials have now pledged to revamp how the district handles suspected concussions. The district also has dismissed a junior varsity assistant coach at La Jolla after he was accused of ignoring the student’s plea to come out of the game because he was hurt.
But despite all of these changes, and an investigation the district says is ongoing, officials insist that La Jolla’s coaches and trainers handled the situation appropriately the night the player suffered a life-altering brain injury.
“When it became apparent there was something not right, the staff took the right steps,” district spokeswoman Ursula Kroemer said.
The district’s contention that coaches and trainers did the right thing while dismissing the coach at the center of the controversy provides one more example of its muddled response to the incident, which left the 17-year-old student with chronic migraines and unable to attend classes.
La Jolla officials have known about the case since it happened in October, but the district only announced these changes after Voice of San Diego published a story on it earlier this week.
According to the boy’s father and head varsity coach Jason Carter, the player told an assistant coach that he was hurt and asked to come out of the football game. The assistant coach refused, Carter said, and the 17-year-old stayed on the field. By the time he came out on his own accord, late in the game, he’d suffered a serious concussion and was sent to the hospital. The player’s father said his son experiences constant fogginess, frequent debilitating headaches and is continuing to receive medical treatment. Kroemer confirmed that the student remains out of school because of the injuries. (VOSD isn’t naming the player at the family’s request.)
After the incident, Carter suspended the assistant coach, Steven Wachs, for the season’s remaining two games. Wachs has disputed that he knew about the player’s injury and claims Carter made him into a scapegoat.
Now, Wachs’ suspension has turned into a termination.
“There are no plans to have him return,” Kroemer said.
Beyond Wachs’ departure, the district now is rewriting its policy for handling concussions. San Diego Unified’s pediatrician, Howard Taras, is drafting new guidelines so that coaches, trainers and other staff can identify head injuries sooner and handle them better. Kroemer said these rules will apply to all students, whether kids are hurt on the playground or in athletics.
“There has been heightened awareness of late on the issue of concussion-related injuries and as a district we are applying more scrutiny to our review processes,” Kroemer told the La Jolla Light.
Kroemer said the district is continuing to review game footage and is speaking to coaches to determine exactly what happened the night the player was injured. Carter, the varsity coach, gave VOSD conflicting accounts of the incident – at first denying that it even occurred. He also called a parent a “coward” for speaking to VOSD about the player’s injury.
Kroemer confirmed that Carter remains La Jolla’s head coach, but wouldn’t say whether he was facing any discipline.