Nobody wants to see a high school football player hurt, and now more than ever, new safety precautions are taking the place of old concussion tests.
Know this: It doesn’t cut it anymore for a fuzzy footballer to count raised fingers on the sideline and then get the OK to trot back onto the field.
Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed legislation requiring Illinois student-athletes who leave a game with a concussion to be medically cleared before returning to practice or playing in future games. Quinn’s move put more teeth into similar action taken by the Illinois High School Association.
The news might ease the anxiety felt by some moms on the sidelines.
"I'm all for it," said football mom Michele Findysz. She describes her worries as typical. She is relatively new to the game and frets over the health and well-being of players as she watches the action unfold from a seat on the bleachers.
Her son, Wally, is a 5-8, 165-pound junior running back and free safety at Chicago Christian High School. He suffered what was believed to be a concussion during a game last season.
Then, Wally Findysz was battling in the trenches for the Knights. And he often was matched up against opponents much bigger than himself.
"That was kind of scary," Findysz. "Not for him. But I get nervous when they're going against guys that are clearly bigger. He thinks he is invincible."
Findysz said she and her husband took Wally to see their regular physician after last season's incident. He was hit in a game, dazed and confused. He was sent to a specialist for a CT scan.
"Everyone was calling it a concussion because his pupils were so large at the time," Michele Findysz said. "We don't know for sure whether it was a concussion or just one of those 'stingers.' The CT scan came back fine. There was no blood. That's all I cared about. He was cleared."
Wally Findysz has dreams and aspirations of playing college football. For now, he is focusing on his junior year with the Knights as well as new techniques he's picking up in practice.
"I know we were talking with our son after (football) camp one day," Michele Findysz said. "He said their new coach () is teaching them not to lead with their helmets. He's been teaching them to learn to tackle the right way so they don't suffer head injuries."
And, yet, head injuries are an inevitable part of football. New safety precautions are aimed at cutting down on potential disasters.
“Given what experts are continuing to learn about the short- and long-term dangers associated with concussions, it’s imperative that rules be in place to protect the safety of student-athletes,” said Kurt Gibson, the IHSA’s associate executive director.
“Requiring them (student-athletes) to get written clearance from a physician licensed to practice medicine … will help protect student-athletes from greater risk and exposure to second-impact head injuries.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations estimates about 140,000 students who play high school sports have concussions every year. Statistics show concussions and head injuries aren't limited to football. They are common in other sports, too, such as lacrosse, soccer and wrestling.
“I believe the object of the new rules is to try to ensure the safety of the student-athletes,” Lincoln-Way West High School athletic director Ted Robbins said. “There is no doubt that because of the advances in technology and sports medicine we are able to better evaluate and diagnose not only concussions, but all types of athletic injuries.
“Our goal is the safety of our student-athletes. If we can help to prevent some concussions through improved parent, coach and athletic education, and improved diagnostic tools, then we are working toward achieving that goal.”
Robbins brings a unique perspective to the concussion dialogue, one born from his days working as an athletic trainer on the sidelines, his every move scrutinized under the glare of those Friday night lights.
“It used to be that when athletes were ‘dinged’ in practice or a game, most of the time the coach was the one determining when the athlete was able to return to play,” Robbins said. “Many times, if the athlete ‘cleared up’ and was able to answer some basic questions, (he or she) was allowed to return to play.
“The policy now in place will hopefully eliminate this from happening on a consistent basis.”
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