Preventing high school football injuries through education

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This is my Write to the Point column that was printed in the Oct. 22 issue of the Cheney Free Press.

Football is a dangerous game — fans and athletes know that. It’s been that way since its inception in 1869.

Recently, the sport has been under a microscope due to the number of injuries at the high school level. Even Medical Lake High School had two players who were injured during games. Nationally, six high school players have died due to injuries related to the game.

I have heard some friends talk about not letting their sons play football, at least until they are older. Some writers and critics have advocated their schools to ban it. In September, Camden Hills Regional High School, in Rockport, Maine, canceled its football season after the team’s third game.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the school cited safety concerns and low numbers as reasons to cancel the season. There won’t be a Camden Hills varsity football team next year either, though the school might allow a JV team.

I don’t think schools should ban the sport, but measures should be in place to ensure players are healthy and safe before and after games. According to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, there were more than 500,000 injuries related to high school football just last year. While muscle strains and sprains represented just over one-third of all the injuries, concussions were about one-quarter.

Schools and regulatory bodies do what they can to prevent and mitigate injuries. There are athletic trainers at practices and medical personnel at the games. The WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) implemented a concussion policy in place for the 2015-16 school year.

According to the WIAA website, officials will ask the coach if he or she has a licensed health care provider that is authorized to evaluate possible concussions on site.

If the answer is yes, the medical personnel must be on site and able to be summoned to evaluate a potential concussion. If an official removes an athlete from play for possible concussion signs or symptoms, that player could return to play if they are medically cleared. If the team does not have an approved health care provider available and the official removes a player for possible concussion signs or symptoms, that athlete will not be allowed to return to play for the rest of the game.

Every year each school district’s board of directors work in concert with the WIAA to develop the guidelines and other information and forms to inform and educate coaches, athletes, and their parents and/or guardians of the nature and risk of concussions and head injuries including continuing to play after concussion or head injury.

Abdominal injuries are another concern when it comes to high school football. In 2008, during a football game, Niceville High School’s Taylor Haugen suffered a ruptured liver after being hit hard in the front and back while reaching up to catch a pass during a home game in Niceville, Florida. His parents, Brian and Kathy Haugen, removed him from life support after doctors were unable to repair his liver.

The Haugens established the Taylor Haugen Foundation and Youth Equipment for Sports Safety to educate high school football players about protecting themselves from abdominal injuries and providing equipment such as rib protectors and back plates to better absorb the hits they take. They have donated 2,500 custom moldable shirts to athletes.

Part of the responsibility of player safety falls on parents and coaches to stress the importance of safety to athletes, if they haven’t already. It also falls on athletes to tell their coaches, parents, athletic trainers or anyone who is around, when they are hurt or experiencing symptoms.

USAFootball.com has several educational pamphlets for coaches and parents to help recognize and develop action plans for concussions, heat exhaustion and sudden cardiac arrest. There are also step-by-step tutorials for heads-up tackling and blocking.

There isn’t a way to make the game of football 100 percent safe. Accidents happen on the field whether it is a miscalculated hit or a player moving his limb the wrong way in the middle of the play. But through education and measures, we can make the game a little safer while still keeping it fun.

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About Al Stover

I graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. I currently work as a Staff Reporter for the Cheney Free Press. I have interviewed characters like cage fighters, drag queens and dungeon masters. I like Batman, coffee, MMA and beer.
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