MISSOULA – Head injuries sustained from football can last a lifetime. That’s why one local organization continues to provide help.

The Dylan Steigers Concussion Project held free concussion testing for Missoula Youth Football players on Saturday. Athletes from grades 3-8 were treated and/or diagnosed with any lingering symptoms of a past head injury, as trainers from Peak Performance and nursing graduate students from Montana State University performed vestibular ocular motor screen testing and coordination drills, as well as ImPACT Neurosite testing on computers and iPads to track eye movement, attention, memory, and reaction speed.

Peak Performance physical therapist Jill Olson explained why organizing these tests are so important for players, and for the community.

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“It’s the education, it’s the protection,” Olson said. “And we also know that research is showing that athletes who have had the baseline concussion test done, their education, knowledge, and awareness of concussions is so much higher — as is their parents’ — that if they do have concussions, their management after concussions is much better and more thorough than those that have not gone through baseline concussion testing.”

The Dylan Steigers Concussion Project was started in honor of Dylan Steigers, a Missoula Sentinel High School graduated who died after a traumatic brain injury suffered during a spring football scrimmage at Eastern Oregon University.

Olson said the number of Missoula Youth Football players are down from last year, declining from more than 900 players to approximately 730.

“It’s alarming how much we tease out from pre-existing concussions, and in talking with parents: ‘Oh no, they didn’t have a concussion. Not a diagnosed concussion,’” Olson said.

“And so often we tease out so many symptoms of lingering issues that never completely healed from pre-existing hits, or even cumulative trauma that may not have been a concussion. But we’re learning so much more about what that cumulative trauma of multiple hits on these young brains is creating.”