When Drew Bradley dove for a loose basketball in a summer league game in June, a teammate accidentally kneed him in the side of the head.
Bradley, 16, a junior at East Lyme High School, was diagnosed with a concussion. He said he had a bad headache and blurred vision for nearly two weeks after the collision. He also had nausea and difficulty concentrating because of the injury.
He was not surprised to learn that nationally, there was a 10 percent increase in basketball injuries among teenaged boys between 2007 and 2010, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The database is maintained by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Head injuries and concussions are a particular concern because they can be fatal.
“I think basketball-related head injuries are increasing because the players are getting bigger and stronger and the game itself is becoming more physical,’’ Bradley said. “Due to this, more players are getting hit in the head.”
Bill LaBruna, who has been an athletic trainer since 1994, coordinates sports trainer assignments for Hartford Hospital’s Eastern Rehabilitation Network. He provides trainers for games and community events in seven towns.
LaBruna said he has seen an increase in concussions and an increased awareness about concussions in the past five years.
Players “scramble out of bounds chasing a basketball and hit their heads on the stands,’’ he said. “Those wooden or plastic stands are not forgiving.”
The symptoms of concussions include dizziness, disorientation, loss of consciousness, nausea, headaches, blurred vision and loss of memory, he said.
Now, trainers tell guidance counselors when a player has a concussion so officials can monitor how the students are doing in class, LaBruna said.
Doctors may hold students with concussions out of school for a week or place them on “brain rest,” which means the student cannot play video games, send text messages, read or use the computers while recovering, LaBruna said.
Players with concussions may also receive a break from homework for a week or more or be given more time to take tests if they need it, he said.
Overall awareness of sports injuries has grown, so the reports of injuries are increasing, LaBruna said.
“Athletes are more apt these days to seek help, which is great,’’ he said.
The number of youths playing basketball nationally has grown “exponentially” in recent years, he said, which may also account for a rise in injury statistics.
James W. Doran Jr., an assistant athletic trainer at the University of Connecticut who works with the men’s basketball team, said he is not sure that the number of injuries is on the rise. He agreed that awareness is increasing.
“People are more aware of concussions,’’ he said. “Back in the day, you might have a player hit and you might not think it’s a concussion. You might call it a ding.”
He warned that concussions can be fatal, particularly if athletes return to their sport too quickly. They can then suffer “second impact syndrome” if they did not rest long enough and if their heads are struck again, Doran said.
Doran, who has been the Huskies’ trainer for seven years, said concussions and injuries can be more serious in college than in high school because of the intense level of play.
“The speed of the game gets faster…so the impacts are now at a higher rate,’’ Doran said.
The better conditioned and prepared athletes are, the less likely they are to be injured, he said.
“If you are not prepared as an athlete…you can be predisposed to a higher level of injury,’’ he said.
In 15 years of coaching boys and girls in Hartford, Wendell Williams said he has only had one player – a girl – receive a concussion in basketball. The girl was injured last in a state playoff game, was dizzy and had to go to the emergency room, he said.
Williams said he is not surprised that basketball injuries are on the rise among teenaged boys.
“The boys tend to be more physical than girls and more relentless, which leads to more injuries,’’ he said. “The boys are fearless.”
When Bradley looks back on his injury, he thinks the only way he could have avoided the concussion was to have not gone diving after the ball.
“But as a player, I feel a responsibility to my team to hustle and dive for balls like that, so I really think it was a freak accident that could not have been avoided,’’ he said.
Bradley has been playing for five years and plans to continue playing for East Lyme High. He’s not sure coaches can make the game safer.
“Safety is in the hands of the player,’’ he said. “If players are smarter and safer on the court, the game will become safer.”
Cassel Ferreira and Malcolm Sharpe are students at the Weaver High School Journalism and Media Academy, Hartford.