Serious injuries becoming biggest concern
BY JOBY FAWCETT
Football is violent.
It’s a sport that thrives on being a contest in survival of the fittest. The brutality is one of its appealing qualities. Collisions that shock players’ bodies and provide an adrenaline rush, however, come at a price.
Battered and bruised football players can, and often do, suffer short- and long-term agony.
Playing football, arguably the most popular sport in the nation and more closelyNortheast Pennsylvania, calls for great sacrifice, and an even greater will to endure the pain and suffering that can result.
In today’s world, one with heightened awareness for the safety of athletes at all age levels, football is under scrutiny. At the high school level, it is even more prevalent.
Parents are worried more than ever. They see the reports on television of former players. They read the studies in the news. Protecting their children is their main priority.
Injuries, more specifically concussions, to these still-developing children are the main concern for high school football coaches and administrators of this generation.
“I’m not sure where we are headed,”Scrantoncoach Mike Marichak said. “We always had injuries and you adjusted, but what is happening is the injuries are really opening eyes. It scares you a little bit.
“With the concussions, you are doing a lot of pre-testing and some parents are starting to be afraid and are encouraging their kids maybe to go out for different sports.”
- – -
For decades, football tested and measured a player’s toughness.
It’s a game that forces competitors to be rough. Being physically strong and unrelenting are traits that are harnessed in search of a success that lasts a lifetime.
What is being learned is that those aches are as long lasting as the memories.
In a recent press release, David Geier, M.D., director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina and a professor of orthopedic surgery, cites statistics from the Center for Disease Control that raise the level of anxiety, which include “2 million high school athletes who have sports injuries.”
It’s not only concussions. There are knee reconstructions for torn ACLs or MCLs. Shoulder surgeries. Broken bones that haven’t fully matured.
At Mid Valley last season, three players – Matt Tanner, Martin Walsh and Mike Reid – were lost to serious knee injuries. All had successful surgeries to repair the damage, and all three are back this season.
But it took a great deal of dedication.
“Matt has worked very hard, Martin Walsh and Mike Reid, all put in a lot of time,” Mid Valley coach Frank Pazzaglia said. “It’s a year-long process and all three of my youngsters have worked extremely hard to get back. You watch what they have to go through and you just say to yourself, you never want to see any kid have to do that.”
What young players who suffer injuries have to go through after surgery is a never-ending process of physically strengthening the compromised area of the body and repairing a once-fearless psyche now scarred.
“It’s unbelievable what you have to do,” Tanner, who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL, said. “You never imagine it. You have to go to therapy every day.
“There is a lot of pain, but in the end it pays off.”
That’s why players keep returning to the fields, and parents sign off on them participating.
Montrose’s John Lawson suffered a fractured hip injury that sidelined him for part of last season. For the 235-pound fullback and linebacker, being unable to play hurt just as much.
So he put in the time and never debated whether he would get back on the field.
Such is a football player’s mentality.
“I am feeling pretty good,” Lawson said this summer. “I made a pretty good recovery. The season is going well and I am pretty excited to help our team out and lead us to win some games.”
- – -
Broken bones can be casted. Torn ligaments more often than not can be repaired.
Concussions are frightening.
An open-field hit that jars the body, also jars the brain inside a player’s skull. True, the head is protected by a helmet, but even the makers understand that they can contain but not prevent concussions.
But the problem is inspiring experts to continue to work at revolutionizing the safety gear, such as the Vengeance DCT (dual compression technology) helmet developed by Schutt.
“As a parent myself, I understand where the concern is coming from,” said Glenn Beckmann, the director of marketing for Schutt. “I think team sports, including football, teach a lot of life lessons.
“There are dangers with the game of football and the very nature of a concussion makes it impossible to prevent them. We know how to keep an egg from cracking. You take that egg and toss it from one hand to another that yolk will get scrambled. That essentially is what happens with the brain. We will keep looking for different materials and padding and cushioning systems to help our helmets absorb impact.”
Concussions are a hot-button issue.
Statistics state that more than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high-school contact sports, according to an article published on the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery website. In addition it states that, “concussions often cause significant and sustained neuropsychological impairments in information-processing speed, problem solving, planning, and memory, and these impairments are worse with multiple concussions. Suffering a second concussion while still having symptoms from a previous concussion can be lethal.”
That raises the caution level for parents. Mike Webster died. Dave Duerson and Junior Seau committed suicide. Jim McMahon’s memory is nearly erased.
All are familiar National Football League players. Each has a history of traumatic head injuries.
“We have all seen the news reports over the last couple of years,” said Dan Kontz, who has two sons playing football atAbingtonHeights. “You see these NFL guys who are Hall of Famers and heroes of ours when we were kids. They have problems and we certainly don’t want our kids being in the same situation of we can prevent it.”
Knowledge is important.
Treatment is critical.
Several schools in the Lackawanna Football Conference took steps this year to protect the student-athletes.LakelandandAbingtonHeightsare among those who conducted Impact Baseline Testing for all athletes.
It’s a computerized test that gives doctors, trainers, coaches and parents a starting point to compare against after a player suffers a head injury.
AbingtonHeightsoffered an information seminar for parents on concussions.
“With the Baseline testing at least you have something to go by,”Lakelandcoach Jeff Wasilchak said. “We had a big issue with concussions last year. It’s something you just don’t know about. You have to be careful with that.
“It’s not a finger injury, it is a kid’s head you are dealing with.”
- – -
Football is now a sport that parents aren’t so eager to have their children participate in.
Coaches know that. So they too play a vital role in safety and recovery from injury.
But parents and players also bear responsibility.
“You have to be aware of it,” saidDelawareValleycoach Keith Olsommer, who played atNorth Pocono,PennStateand spent a training camp with the Baltimore Ravens. “You never want to put a kid out there who is struggling with an injury. If they tell you to keep them out, you keep them out and re-evaluate. If you are a parent, some things have changed. We all need to just take a good look at everything.”
Schools are doing everything in their power and are taking extra steps. Physical trainers are at every practice and team doctors are on the sideline during game day.
Practice schedules have been reduced. Contact in drills is being monitored. Teaching of proper techniques is a priority. Education on injuries and recovery is a requirement for coaches.
Changes in the rules of the game to outlaw vicious helmet-to-helmet contact, and others may be forthcoming to limit high-speed collisions in the open field and direct contact with the knees.
“I think concussions are going to end up changing the culture of the game,” said Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, M.D., of Penn State Orthopedics. “There has to be changes in coaching techniques. A lot of the drills are outdated for the type of athlete we have to today. We have bigger people and stronger people.
“When you put higher kinetic energy, only so many hits are appropriate.”
Things are being done to maintain the excitement of the sport, while maintaining safety.
This is a different era of high school football. And the coaches are committed.
“I see injuries as a concern by the parents and eventually that could hurt the sport,” Scranton Prep coach Nick Donato said. “I think we have all been very protective of the kids. I also think that the NFL game is a much different game from the high school game. The dangers are much greater at that level. There is always a risk at the high school level, but it’s a great game. With the protective equipment and we as coaches do things much differently than we did 5 or 10 years ago.”
Still, coaches remain optimistic that the game isn’t going anywhere.
“I don’t know if the game is any more violent, so I think if you as a coach take care of what you need to in teaching, and as an athletic trainer and as a parent, there is no more risk now then when a kid played in the 1960s or 1970s,” Olsommer added. “The treatments are a lot better today than the old adage of rub some dirt on it.
“The game is here and it’s here to stay. It’s a violent sport and that’s why these kids love it. There is something about it in this country and why football is the most popular sport in theUnited States.”