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Penguins Foundation Kicks Off "Heads Up Pittsburgh" Program

by Joe Prince-Wright / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation has paired with UPMC Sports Medicine to introduce the foundation’s first major initiative, the “Heads Up Pittsburgh” program.

The Penguins Foundation will offer free baseline concussion testing and educational programs to youth hockey players in the Pittsburgh region.

“This is the first major initiative of the Pittsburgh Penguins foundation,” said Dave Soltesz, president of the Foundation. “Our mission statement says it all – to actively promote physical well being, encourage teamwork, stress the value of education and provide essential life skills to young people of the community through youth hockey and other activities.”
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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.

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.

Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma is fully supportive of this initiative, both as an NHL coach and a parent of a youth hockey player.

“This is an attempt to aid a large number of kids throughout the Pittsburgh area to be able to take that step to get the baseline and to be tested,” Bylsma said. “So that when my son and your son and everyone’s kids happen to have this happen to them, we have a baseline so we know how to deal with this and we’re more aware of the situation.”

Soltesz said the program plans to focus on pee wee, bantam and midget levels of youth hockey as well as high school hockey, as these players are all involved in body checking.  The program will be used by over 6,000 youth hockey players in Western Pennsylvania.

The tests, which are being funded by the Penguins Foundation, 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.

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.

Dr. Brian Hagen from UPMC Sports Medicine is delighted to be working with the Penguins Foundation, and hopes that the initiative will take away some of the unknowns that come with an injury like a concussion.

“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,” Collins said. “Sometimes there is a bit of confusion about the testing.

“A baseline test is not intended to detect a concussion or provide information about a concussion. It is to establish a benchmark for that individuals normal state. So if they do receive a concussion we have a comparative analysis to look at to determine when they can go back to play. I applaud the Penguins Foundation and the CDC for establishing this program with us.”

CCAC has also added vital support to the Foundation, as they have allowed the use of several of their branch campus sites around Allegheny County to be used for the testing and educational programs.

“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.”

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