Action News Jax Investigates: Tracking student athletes' concussions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A yearlong investigation by Action News Jax has uncovered the systems program to track concussions in student athletes may have been abandoned altogether.

Meanwhile Duval County Public Schools reports the number of concussions among students has nearly doubled.

Action News Jax first started trying to get answers from that agency, the Florida High School Athletic Association last November.

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When they repeatedly denied our requests for the most recent concussion data, Action News Jax reporter Russell Colburn paid them a visit, walking into the board meeting to speak with board President Andy Chiles.

Colburn asks: “For the past month, we’ve been emailing, trying to get updated numbers and we were told that you have no information to provide. So, we just came here to try to get some information..”

Chiles responds: “Yeah, I’m not the guy to see for that. Just to be honest, because you’re not going to get anything from me -- because I don’t know, so let me get you to the right person.”

Eventually, FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett came out to speak to us saying, “Yeah, so we’re not going to have a statement or whatever. What we said in that email is the last correspondence in regards to that."

Colburn then asked Niblett if the program was still in existence.

"We’re just asking for the data, the numbers that were supposed to have been reported last year from the high schools to you guys," Colburn said.

Niblett responded: "Yes sir, and like I said, what we sent you on Aug. 22 is where we’re at right now."

"But what you sent us was there was no information to provide. I mean, surely you have the data you’ve been collecting," Colburn said.

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Niblett responded: "What we said in the email on Aug. 22. There’s no information to provide."

Colburn then asked if they shelved the program, and he received the same response.

When asked if parents who may be concerned about safety should be given an explanation, Niblett again responded with: "What we said on Aug.22 is there’s no information to provide."

We showed video of the encounter we had with Niblett to father and son Mike and Derek Johnson.

Derek suffered several concussions during when he played football for Creekside High School.

“You have to at least have the data before you can even start talking whether your efforts to reduce concussions are effective. So to me, that’s not acceptable, that kind of an answer. They owe more than that to the parents of kids that are playing football,” Mike Johnson said.

We took our findings to Dr. Daniel Kantor, who chaired the subcommittee on concussions for the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of FHSAA. He also helped set up the state's guidelines for reporting sports-related concussions.

“I think this program is important. I think it helps us understand how many concussions are happening- or at least how many concussions are being reported -- but I don’t think knowing the exact number changes the fact that concussions in sports and outside of sports is an important public health problem,”  Dr. Kantor said.

But Dr. Kantor couldn’t tell us the status of the program now, saying “I’m not aware whether the program exists still, or not.”

In 2016, the FHSAA mandated that all Florida high schools report to them the number of concussions suffered by students in all sports, but by their own admission, the data gathered in that first year of the program was "inaccurate."

Dr.  Richard "Lance" Snyder, a sports medicine and concussions expert at Memorial Hospital said, “We’re only going to gain knowledge and be able to help the safety of our children if we have that knowledge and we have those numbers.”

Duval County Public Schools said area high schools saw nearly twice as many football-related concussions last school year than the year prior, growing from 39 to 67.

Derek Johnson knows there was a time for him when one bad hit could have ended his life.

“Concussions were a huge part of my high school life and because of that, I didn’t get to do things I wanted to do in high school, but I’m trying to make up for it now, basically," Johnson said.

Derek who is 22, has started a new job, but still lives with the effects of his playing days.

His family worries that without an accurate system to track concussions and draw conclusions, there will be many more cases just like Derek’s.

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