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One Million Youths to Get Free Baseline Concussion Tests

Dick's Sporting Goods and ImPACT Applications are teaming up to provide free baseline concussion tests and education to 1 million youth athletes.

The two groups are creating the Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education, or PACE program—what they say is the nation's largest baseline concussion-screening initiative. ImPACT Applications is responsible for the ImPACT baseline test, one of the more widely used tests in athletics today.

The PACE program plans to provide schools across the nation free access to educational materials about concussions and supply upwards of 3,300 schools with ImPACT test packages (which include baseline tests for up to 300 student-athletes). It also aims to screen 1 million student-athletes in total. Only schools that aren't currently customers of ImPACT can receive the free test package. (You can sign your school up on the PACE website.)

Baseline tests are used to record a student-athlete's normal, healthy level of brain activity. When a student-athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he/she would re-take the baseline test, and a medical professional would compare the results with the original test to measure the difference in results. If a student-athlete has more trouble with short-term memory or takes longer to record answers, for instance, these could be potential signs of a concussion.

According to a recent studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader presented at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, baseline tests are critical for accurate concussion diagnosis, because normal, healthy brain-activity levels differ among student-athletes.

An estimated 187,000 high school student-athletes were diagnosed with concussions in the 2009-10 school year, according to researchRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader from the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

Who's the face of the PACE campaign? None other than former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, who acknowledges that he sustained a number of concussions over his 25-year football career, from middle school to the pros.

"When I heard the number (of concussions in student-athletes), that really did surprise me," Bettis said to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "You don't really expect it to be that many.

"And you recognize it is a high number and how important it is for kids and parents to understand the educational aspect of dealing with concussions," Bettis continued. "That's not to say these could have been prevented, but the more you know about concussions, the more treatable they are and the more you can prevent it from becoming a major problem in a child's life."

From Aug. 2 to Sept. 12, Dick's Sporting Goods will donate $1 to PACE for each pair of athletic shoes purchased in any of its stores or online. The company will also donate $1 to the PACE cause every time it gains a new "like" on Facebook or every time someone includes the hashtag #DSGPACE on Twitter; same goes for people checking into Dick's Sporting Goods stores on Facebook Places or Foursquare. (The maximum the company will donate is $1 million, according to the PACE website.)

While this may be the largest nationwide baseline concussion-screening initiative, it's certainly not the only rodeo in town. Last month, I reported that the Mayo Clinic planned on giving more than 100,000 student-athletes free baseline tests this coming year.

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