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Tom Mix, Published August 26 2012

Recent concussion numbers have football at the forefront of discussion

Fargo

The increased national attention that athletic concussions and head injuries have received the last several years has also put a microscope on one sport: Football.

With the National Football League garnering headlines with its revised procedures of how to manage its athletes who suffer head injuries as well as its current legal cases with former players seeking increased medical compensation for injuries sustained during their playing careers, football has been front and center in the concussion debate.

Football at every level from youth Pop Warner, high school, college and professional are getting a closer look.

Concussions were a topic of discussion at a North Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors meeting earlier this summer.

The fact remains that there is a risk for concussion in every NDHSAA sanctioned sport and activity, but high-contact sports like football are always going to have a higher profile.

“Obviously, there are sports that are more prone to concussions,” said Fargo Public Schools Activities Director Todd Olson, who is a NDHSAA board member and also serves on the state’s high school football committee.

“The NFL has become very active in the concussion world, so obviously football is the sport that is going to get looked at a lot.”

The 2011-12 concussion survey that the NDHSAA issued all 169 of its member schools revealed that 232 total concussions were reported in football and based on participation figures in the sport, roughly 1 in every 18 football player suffered a head injury last fall.

The 1:18 ratio of concussions was the same for girls hockey.

But in the rough-and-tumble world of competitive football, where strength and toughness are often held as paramount virtues, the decision to bar a player who has suffered a head injury from the field of play can no longer be left to chance.

Coaches now subscribe to the policy of: “When in doubt, sit them out.”

“They are playing high school football and it is important to them when they are there,” West Fargo head football coach Jay Gibson said. “To have that experience is important, but to go on after, that is more important. I have many examples of players who have had concussions that we just don’t let them play.”

Gibson also reacted to the NDHSAA concussions survey.

“The 232 number is too many,” Gibson said. “I don’t want anyone to have a concussion.

“I think the equipment is so much better, but more importantly the overall technique in football is better. … I’m still coaching and I love it.”

With national concussion data receiving more exposure, there are some who think high school football should be banned.

Philadelphia public school teacher and Council Rock school board member Patty Sexton received some national attention earlier this summer when she compared football to ancient gladiator competitions and called for its banning at the high school level.

Members of North Dakota’s football committee don’t share those opinions and believe the sport has a promising future in the state following recent developments in concussion management.

“I don’t think it is going to change football,” said former NDHSAA board of directors president Dr. Steve Swiontek, who also serves on the state’s football committee. “I don’t think it has put a bad light on football. What I think it has really done is increase the safety of kids.

“In the old days we would have never even seen these numbers. … Now we have coaches that have been trained in concussion management, so athletes are not going back on the field and getting diagnosed correctly.”

Current NDHSAA board of directors president Scott Ulland, who also serves on the football committee, said the issue will have to be continually monitored.

“I think there will still be football for a long time into the future in North Dakota and across the country,” Olson said. “It is a risk of playing football, but there are plenty of risks in playing a variety of sports.”


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Tom Mix at (701) 451-5651