Kara Murphy urges young athletes to 'Keep Your Head in the Game'

Basketball star becomes champion for concussion awareness


After suffering a serious, life-changing concussion four years ago, Kara Murphy, a senior forward on The University of Akron’s women’s basketball team, has spent her college athletic career making a name for herself in the Mid-American Conference and beyond.

Now she wants to do more than score points. She wants to give back during her team’s Nov. 21 game.

During the home opener against Niagara University, Murphy and her teammates are holding a concussion awareness event called “Keep Your Head in the Game.” T-shirts with that slogan, priced at $10, will give fans free admission to the game, with proceeds benefiting Akron Children’s Hospital’s Head Injury Program.

The T-shirts can be purchased through The University of Akron Athletic Office: 330-972-6426, Akron Children’s Hospital: 330-543-8037 or St. Vincent/St. Mary High School: 330-253-9113 beginning Nov. 8.

Teamwork key to Murphy’s recovery

Murphy has extensive experience with Akron Children’s head injury team after suffering a serious concussion her senior year at Akron’s St. Vincent/St. Mary’s High School. As she was attempting a lay-up during a playoff game, she suffered a hit, causing her head to hit the court. Before she could get up, another player inadvertently landed on her, driving her head back into the hardwood.

In and out of consciousness, she was rushed by ambulance to Akron Children’s, where she was diagnosed with a spinal cord concussion and grade 3 concussion. Over the next few weeks, Murphy struggled to walk and talk. She and her parents, Pam and Mark Murphy, of Hartville, began to question if she would be able to play college basketball at The University of Akron, which had offered her a scholarship.

Over the ensuing months, she worked with just about every specialist on Akron Children’s head injury team. A neurologist helped her through debilitating headaches and mood swings.

A neuropsychologist identified the mental processes most directly impacted and helped draft an individualized education plan to address Murphy’s memory problems and need for extra sleep. Sports medicine physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers made sure her return to play was safe and gradual.

As a former NFL player, Murphy’s father knew firsthand the challenges his daughter faced. For a dozen seasons, as a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers, he suffered an average of two concussions per season.

But Mark Murphy never expected his daughter could suffer such a serious concussion playing high school basketball.

“She’s been a warrior through this ordeal and has always been a very hard worker, very driven, always trying to improve,” he said. “But this has been difficult for her because it is something you can’t control.”

Despite all of these obstacles, Murphy has started every game of her four years, achieved conference honors and, as a sophomore, became the youngest player in program history to record her 1,000 career point. She plans to become a pediatric nurse.

“Overall, I feel really good and blessed that I could go onto college and have the four great years I have had with the Zips,” said Murphy. “But, in some ways, I know I am a different person than I was before my concussion. I need much more sleep than the average college student and can still get killer headaches.”

Murphy said it is important to educate the public, especially young athletes and their parents, that concussion should not be taken lightly.

The Nov. 21 game will feature concussion awareness videos at half time, and representatives from the Akron Children’s Hospital Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine will have educational materials and information about IMPACT (pre- and post-concussion cognitive) testing for high school athletes.

In addition, sports medicine physicians will quiz fans about concussion myths during time-outs throughout the game. Murphy and her teammates will be available to sign autographs after the game.

The game is at 2 p.m. at the James A. Rhodes (JAR) Arena on The University of Akron campus. Doors open at 1 p.m.

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