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Concussion protocol stirs controversy at meet

Perhaps it is time to add NCAA wrestling's new concussion rules to the PIAA rulebook.

That was the idea Littlestown coach Kerry Ferguson floated after calming down from the frustration of having one of his wrestlers sent home from the District 3 Class AA Section I tournament early on Saturday afternoon.

Thunderbolts 145-pound freshman Carl Harris led Bermudian Springs' junior Ashton West 5-3 with 48 seconds left in their consolation semifinal match when the competitors bumped heads. Harris took injury time after the collision, and a trainer jogged out to attend to him.

Not more than a minute later, an independent doctor from PinnacleHealth acting as the head trainer for the tournament joined the trainer and determined that Harris could not continue. A frustrated Harris threw his headgear to the side and ripped off his singlet after the decision, and his notoriously laid-back coach spent the next several minutes red in the face arguing the decision with the doctor and tournament officials.

Ferguson said Harris answered the trainer's questions without problem before the doctor came out and asked one single question: "Do you have a headache?"

“He said he had a slight headache, but he also said he had it before the match," Ferguson said. "As far as I’m concerned, he was leading a kid into an answer. He got hit in the head and took injury, what’s he gonna say? ‘My shoulder hurts?’ He didn’t do any other evaluation on him, he just said he was done based off that question."

The evaluation continued off the mat.

“(The doctor's) conclusion off the mat was his pupils were fine, he was able to do everything, answered a bunch of other questions," Ferguson continued. "He said he was a little wobbly while standing on one foot with his leg up, touching his nose with his eyes closed. So is everybody.”

The doctor declined to give his name and said he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Harris left for further evaluation before the consolation semifinal round ended. He will still move onto the District 3 championships next week since he placed in the top six, but Ferguson was frustrated that he will face a much tougher first-round matchup than he would have had he placed third or fourth.

The incident raised the question of whether or not the PIAA needs to update its concussion rules for wrestling. The NCAA added a rule this year that concussion evaluations will not count toward the 90-second injury time limit, which Ferguson saw in practice recently while watching a Penn State dual meet.

“To evaluate a kid for a concussion in 90 seconds, especially when they take 30 or 45 seconds just to get out there … It’s a totally different thing. They had enough time to evaluate (the wrestler in the Penn State match). It wasn't where he came out and made a snap decision.”