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Phys. Ed. & Concussions Dominate the Top K-12 Sports Stories of 2011

It's pretty safe to call 2011 "The Year of Concussions" in youth sports, but based on this blog's readership trends, physical education made a resurgence, too.

As is tradition around this time of year, we EdWeek bloggers like to see which blog posts got the most attention in 2011. It's no surprise to see concussions near the top of this blog's list, given how much I've written about the issue this year. (Nearly 50 posts in 2011, by my count.)

But, somewhat to my surprise, the three most-read Schooled in Sports posts this year were about physical education and physical fitness, not concussions.

Instead of going through each of the 10 most-read posts, let's take a larger look at the phys. ed. and youth-concussion news that we'll remember from 2011.

Physical Education Makes a Comeback

This blog's most widely-read post of the year focused on a study that found a positive correlation between phys. ed./recess mandates (from the state- and district-level) and school-based physical activity time. Ironically, later that week, I wrote about a Florida lawmaker who's attempting to have the state's phys. ed. requirement for middle schoolers abolished.

Trailing not far behind was a post focusing on the Lincoln, Neb., school system, where students who passed the district's physical were significantly more likely to pass the state's math and reading tests.

It's no secret that many schools were chopping phys. ed. and after-school sports to balance their budgets over the past few years. But after this year, it appears that momentum may finally be swinging in the other direction, due in no small part to potential academic benefits for students. (Not to mention, of course, the ongoing fight against this country's youth-obesity epidemic.)

For proof, look no further than the U.S. Department of Education. Funding for the federal Carol M. White Physical Education Program will remain flat at nearly $80 million in this upcoming fiscal year, under the budget approved by Congress earlier this month.

I'd be remiss to not note the fifth most popular post of the year, one based on a "South Park" episode that linked phys. ed. to the Occupy Wall Street movement, all while making fun of No Child Left Behind. I'm pretty sure it's the first (and likely only) time a "South Park" clip will be embedded into an EdWeek blog post. (Thanks for not cursing, guys!)

Concussions: Youth Sports' New Epidemic

In early February, when the National Football League urged all 50 states to adopt youth-concussion laws, 11 had already passed them.

As of today, Dec. 29, 35 states and the District of Columbia now have youth-concussion laws, with a handful of other states ready to consider legislation in 2012.

With roughly 146,000 high school student-athletes having sustained concussions in the 2008-09 school year, according to research from the Center for Injury Research and Policy, it's easy to see why states have been so quick to leap into action. Greater awareness about concussions has likely led to a greater incidence in the reporting of concussions, giving scientists a more accurate picture of just how widespread the problem may be.

Unlike broken bones, concussions can't be detected using X-rays or other medical imagery, putting athletic trainers and other school professionals at a disadvantage when trying to diagnose players. The eighth most popular post of the year gave some background into the youth-sports concussion epidemic, and then mentioned a potential concussion-diagnosis tool called the King-Devick test.

The K-D test is a two-minute exercise that tracks subtle vision problems in athletes suffering from concussions. The journal Neurology called it "an accurate and reliable method for identifying athletes with head trauma," and "a strong candidate [for a] rapid sideline screening test for concussion."

If one thing's clear, there's still plenty of work to be done in this field—particularly with the notion that a repeated number of small, subconcussive hits can progressively build up and cause long-term brain damage over time.

Three Things to Watch for in 2012

1. Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA over use of player likenesses: According to ESPN, fact discovery in the case is scheduled to wrap up in late January. (For background on the case, visit PBS Frontline.

2. Title IX has its 40th birthday on June 23, 2012. I imagine we'll do something special as we get closer to the anniversary.

3. We'll wait to see what progress is made (if any) on lawsuits against NCAA and NFL over concussions. A number of former players have sued both organizations this year, alleging that they knew about the risks of concussions and hid them from players in the past.

If you've made it this far, I thank you, wish you a happy new year, and hope you keep coming back to Schooled in Sports in 2012. Without further adieu...

The Top 10 posts of 2011, by the Numbers

1. "Study: Phys. Ed., Recess Mandates Boost School Physical-Activity Time," Dec. 5.

2. "Students' Fitness Linked to Higher Test Scores," Nov. 21.

3. "Should Schools Make Physical Education Mandatory?," Jan. 26

4. "NCAA Raises Minimum GPA for Incoming Student-Athletes," Oct. 27.

5. "'South Park' Ties Physical Education to 'Occupy Wall Street'," Nov. 3.

6. "The High School Effect of Paying NCAA Student-Athletes," July 28.

7. "Group Sues Ed. Department Over Title IX's 3-Part Test for High Schools," July 21.

8. "Concussions: A Potential Solution to Youth Football's Largest Problem in 2011," Feb. 7.

9. "Calif. Governor Vetoes Bill Banning Pay-to-Play Sports Fees," Oct. 10

10. "Report: One-Third of U.S. Children Are Overweight or Obese," July 11.

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