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Eric Peterson, Published August 26 2012

Concussion training just one requirement for Minnesota coaches

Moorhead - Kevin Feeney remembers scoring a critical touchdown in a football game for North Dakota State nearly two decades ago.

After that, Feeney – now the Moorhead High head football coach – didn’t remember much.

“I had no clue that I went to the emergency room and didn’t go home with the team,” Feeney said.

Feeney was a freshman starting quarterback for the Bison on that October afternoon in 1995. His diving TD run in the closing minutes helped lift the Bison to a 26-25 victory at Mankato State.

The play also left Feeney woozy, forcing him to leave the game.

It was a few days later when Feeney found out he was taken to the emergency room. His mom called to tell him she had mailed an insurance form.

“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” Feeney said. “She said, ‘We had to take you to the emergency room after the Mankato game.’ I had no clue.”

These days, Feeney is clued into concussions and their effects. Concussion management is one part of the online training the Minnesota State High School League requires of all its coaches.

“I think it’s come a long, long way,” Feeney said, comparing now to his playing days. “With the amount of media coverage with what’s going on in the NFL, it has all filtered down. … I don’t know if the amount of concussions has changed, but I think people are a lot more aware of what a concussion is and the symptoms.”

Hawley head football coach Peder Naatz, who is in his 13th season, agrees with Feeney.

“There is just more awareness nationwide about concussions,” Naatz said. “There is more media. There is more talking. People are getting more concerned about it because of the after-effects.”

Feeney said the Spuds not only have medical personnel at their games, they have a trainer at practices, too. Feeney said he’s altered some of his practice drills to lessen the impact of collisions with the idea of concussion prevention in mind.

“There are things that we have changed in our practices,” Feeney said. “There are drills that we think are beneficial, but the cost of having the concussion outweighs the benefit of the drill.”

Equipment also plays a key role in preventing head injuries. Feeney, who is in his third season with the Spuds, said none of the helmets for the varsity players are more than three years old. Feeney said a new helmet costs between $225 and $250 each.

“That’s a big commitment from our school district,” Feeney said.

Naatz said the Nuggets usually get six to 10 new helmets rotated into their inventory yearly.

Making sure helmets are fitted correctly is also an area of emphasis, along with making sure a chinstrap is secured correctly.

“You constantly talk to the kids about making sure that the helmets are being used to its fullest,” Feeney said. “We have a coach on staff that literally teaches the kids how to put a chinstrap in the right spot and make sure that it is properly fitting.”

According to MSHSL concussion protocol, once a concussion has been diagnosed that athlete can’t receive clearance to return to action on that same day.

“I think most people are smart enough to know that a kid’s welfare is much more important than whether or not he’s going to play in the second half or fourth quarter,” Naatz said. “It’s just not worth it. There are so many things that can go on.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com