The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and UPMC Sports Medicine are teaming up on a first-of-its-kind initiative – “Heads Up Pittsburgh” – to offer free baseline concussion testing and educational programs to youth hockey players in the Pittsburgh region.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) also are playing key roles in this unique program to enhance the safety of local youth hockey through concussion education and awareness among players and their families.
Free testing will be available to youth players in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL) and Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League (PAHL), as well as others registered locally through USA Hockey programs. “Heads Up Pittsburgh” is being funded by the Penguins Foundation.
The tests will be conducted starting May 1 at The UPMC Sports Medicine Center on the South Side. An expanded schedule of testing will be available starting in June at any of five Community College of Allegheny County locations – Allegheny, Boyce, North and South campuses and West Hills Center. Up to 20 players can be tested at the same time. Players will be emailed a password by USA Hockey which will enable them to pre-register for testing at www.upmc.com/hockeytesting.
“This is the first major initiative of the new Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and we are very proud that it focuses on the health, safety and education of thousands of local youth hockey players,” said Dave Soltesz, president of the Foundation.
“We held a dry-land training program for youth hockey with UPMC Sports Medicine back in October and began discussing the possibility of a concussion-specific program at that time. It’s a testament to UPMC’s expertise and commitment to the youth of our region that everything has come together so quickly. We’ll be able to begin this program in May and have thousands of players tested heading into the next hockey season.”
The UPMC Sports Concussion Program, a credentialed ImPACT testing partner, will use a 30-minute test that evaluates and documents multiple aspects of neurocognitive functioning — including memory, brain processing speed, reaction time, post-concussive symptoms and an injury-documentation system. All NHL players undergo such a test. The baseline test is then used for a comparison if a player suffers a concussion and to help inform return to play decisions made by health care professionals.
“UPMC Sports Medicine is very excited to expand its relationship with the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation to offer baseline concussion testing to the hockey players of western Pennsylvania. Combining the expertise of these organizations to improve the safety of our youth hockey players is an initiative we are proud to be a part of,” commented Dr. Brian F. Hagen, UPMC Sports Medicine.
“This time of year, about 20 percent of our concussion clinic patients are youth hockey players – both boys and girls,” said Dr. Micky Collins, of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “I applaud the Penguins Foundation and the CDC for establishing this program with us.”
Soltesz said the program will be focused on the pee wee, bantam and midget levels of youth hockey, in addition to high school hockey, because those players are involved in body-checking. “This represents 6,000 players in those age groups in western Pennsylvania, and our goal is to test all of them,” Soltesz said.
“CCAC is proud to expand our service to the community with the Penguins Foundation and UPMC as part of this important initiative,” said Alex Johnson, CCAC president. “The ‘Heads Up Pittsburgh’ program will enable young athletes to receive this advanced screening at convenient locations throughout the Allegheny County.”
While players are being tested, their parents will meet with UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program staff to learn about “Heads Up Pittsburgh” and receive educational materials provided by the CDC.
The goal is to offer a comprehensive program to help get concussion information into the hands of coaches, referees, parents and school and health-care professionals who are on the front line to help identify and respond appropriately to concussions among young athletes.