Making sure that children are active often means getting them interested in sports. But parents have to weigh the health risks of participating in sports such as football.
One of the most common injuries a player may suffer is a concussion. Concussions are brain injuries. Most people, including kids, recover from a concussion. But concussions can lead to serious, lasting health problems.
What do Americans know about the risk of sports concussions among youth? And how do people feel about the risks?
Photo by Jordan Holland
Mark Kelly of Zide’s Sports Shop helps a Fort Frye football player fit into his helmet at the team’s locker roon in Beverly.
Americans support high school football, but many say safety needs more attention.
Doctors and public health officials have been working to raise awareness of the issue.
Dr. John Piersol has been the Belpre High School team physician since 1988. He said, "the on-the-sideline experiences have been an invaluable learning experience for me personally."
Knowing How to Recognize Concussion Symptoms
* There are more than 20 symptoms, including headaches, which may occur in concussions. These can range from minor, suchs as mild change in sleep patterns or emotions, to severe personality changes and disabling vestibular symptoms.
* Memory loss
* Poor balance
* Slurred speech
* Blurred vision
* Light sensitivity
"Seeing the actual incident that created a student's injury not only helps in diagnosing the athlete, but is invaluable in helping with treatment parameters and injury prevention. The majority of football injuries are normally sprain/strain type. Football is a contact sport-therefore contact injuries as well as other injuries occur. Cuts, contusions, cramps, heat exhaustion, ankle and knee injuries, an occasional fracture and last but not least concussions"
"As a chiropractor, I am able to treat the patient for the spinal assaults, misalignments the athlete encounters and get their game back to its maximum performance level. All without medications that most athletes try to avoid anyway."
"Conditioning and flexibility are the key to avoiding most type injuries. Most athletes don't stretch enough."
His response to limiting concussions in football is, "always check the amount of air in helmets. Inspect it before the game and at halftime. Coaches, trainers and the players must be vigilant in making sure the helmet has the right amount of air. During the game helmets can and will lose air.
"The biggest catalyst in reducing concussions is educating the players on avoiding (head-to-head) contact and this practice should always be stressed. No matter how slight the contact was or how tough a player maybe, they should be cleared by a medical staffer before resuming play. It's usually not the first impact that can be life-threatening but the second impact on an already contused brain that can be fatal."
Piersol said a preventive step teams should use is, "after the player receives a concussion, regardless of the degree, the medical staff and coaches should always take the player's helmet until he is released by the medical staff. If not, the athlete can grab it and head onto the field to play without getting clearance."
Some believe equipment and safety measures need to be improved. Overall, players and parents have seen substantial progress in raising awareness about concussion risks.
Coaches and officials need to look into how they can improve upon the safety measures.
Some Mid-Ohio Valley high school football coaches weighed-in on how to combat concussions at the prep level.
Calhoun County High School head football coach Michael Fitzwater said of the current concussion climate, "it's something you hear everyday on SportsCenter or Yahoo and the news. You hear that word over and over and over. The coaches know it's a big issue.
We are fully aware of it (the stress being placed on monitoring for and trying to prevent concussions). We are really protective. We've gone through every precaution know to man. We held off helmet fittings until the first day of practice. Zide's (Sport Shop) came down and did them the first day of practice so they (the players) couldn't mess with them."
Jason Schobthe fires-year head coach at Marietta High said "football is a collision sport and injuries such as concussions can happen. Many of the concussions however can be prevented if the players use the proper form to tackle."
"It is import that players are taught proper tackling form throughout the entire season. Kids don't have the time to think about all of the minor details of proper tackling during games, it must be second nature. The goal is to develop muscle memory during practices so the movement becomes automatic."
Former Glenville State College head football coach Bill Hanlin issued these comments about concussions, "rules have taken the head out of the game and replaced it with precautions and subsequent violations, he said. Hanlin added, "In the early years players wore leather helmets and slowly the development of equipment made it possible to use head gear as a more efficient way to tackle. The main reason concussions are so highly publicized is due to youth football players sustaining far too many concussions. The issue is not glamorized in college and pro football due to the frequent occurrences of concussions."
Hnlin endorsed "new sideline rules and examinations will prevent a player returning to game unless he is cleared. In the old days a quick question and look is all a player was required to answer to get back on the field."
While equipment can help reduce risks of injury, proper coaching and rules can help "take the head out of the game," Rod Zide, of Zide's Sport Shop, said. "Proper fitting helmets is the best way to protect players. Some programs fail to properly fit each player and this piece of equipment is the leading protector against concussions."
Zide travels throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley each year to ensure players receive the proper fit of helmets, chin straps and mouth pieces.
"Injuries are part of all contact sports, but players, coaches, trainers and parents can limit these instances with due vigilance," he said.