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Hazards in the Huddle

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 In the late summer every year, thousands of young men and boys, in the often grueling heat of the afternoon, will suit up and push their bodies to their athletic limit. They will do this every day, sometimes twice a day, until winter. They will put the well-being of the play, the catch, the run, or the tackle sometimes above the well-being of their own bodies. They will exert themselves to the fullest of their capacity for a chance to become faster and stronger than they were the day before. It is football season, and the boys aim to win. 

As a sport, football may grant each player the opportunity to win glory for himself and his team, and from time to time, each player will take a knee for a lesson in humility. 

Football will see each player grow and learn the way all those who play a team sport grow and learn. While the sport offers these young men and boys invaluable life lessons, it can come at a price. A recent study by the Brain Injury Association of Arizona concluded that more than 62,000 concussions occur each year in high school sports, with football accounting for two of every three. 

A study done by the Journal of Athletic Training found that, in the teams they studied, there were about 300 hits to the head during football practice that were in the concussion causing range, and there were 200 practice collisions that experts likened to crashing a car into a concrete wall at 40 miles an hour.

Dr. Troy Glaser, D.O., of Central States Orthopedic Specialists, agrees that football offers players a variety of lessons that will benefit them later in life, but advises that individual families “talk about the risks involved, and determine whether it’s worth it” or not to them.

The injuries that occur most often in football include finger and wrist fractures, ankle sprains, knee injuries, and concussions, said Dr. Glaser. While all of these injuries are potentially debilitating, concussions are the most worrying because the brain of a child under the age of 18 is not fully developed. 

Dr. Glaser explained that the undeveloped brain does not “bounce back” after injury as well as the developed brain; therefore, school-aged athletes are the population with the highest risk of Second Impact Syndrome (SIS). SIS is a rapid swelling of the brain from a second concussion that occurs before symptoms of the first concussion have subsided. A player may take a hit and get a concussion without knowing it, and feel well enough to keep playing. When he takes a second hit, the brain herniates catastrophically, and often fatally. Those who survive suffer brain damage.

What’s more, neurologists say that a person is four times more likely to sustain a second concussion if he’s already had one. And, after several concussions, even a fairly light blow can cause head injury.

What Can Parents Do?

“It’s up to the parents to make sure it’s child-geared,” said Laurie, “and that [the kids] are the ones who initiate it. They should not be forced into any of it.”

Jarrett Skaggs, a sixth grader at Jenks, began playing tackle football in the first grade.

“We thought it was insane at first,” said Jeremy Skaggs, his father and assistant coach. “But he loved it.”

The Skaggs family is aware of the injury risks inherent in football, and acknowledges that injuries are likely, especially in high school, but they have taken the necessary precautions. Jarrett’s parents regularly consult his pediatrician to be sure that he isn’t suffering from any lingering effects of injury, and to be sure that continuing football is in his best interests.

When Jarrett’s younger brother Hayden received his second concussion (one on the field, one off), they went directly to their pediatrician for consultation. She advised that Hayden no longer participate in contact sports, and the Skaggs were quick to heed that advice. 

After that, they “became a lot more conscious of head injuries,” said Laurie, Jarrett and Hayden’s mother. “We talked to a pediatrician about what helmet does what, and which one would be best for Jarrett.” Now Jarrett wears a special helmet designed to give his developing brain a strong line of defense.

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