by Natalia Radcliffe
If you have seen the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you might pity the rabbit. His head never gets a break, being subject to constant, comical thumps. For a human, having a glass cookie jar dropped on the skull does not result in laughter, but possibly, a concussion.
And recently, there has been increasing concern over concussions for local athletes. This concern is commonly seen in sports where there is a risk of obtaining head injuries.
A concussion occurs when the head suffers a jarring blow, causing the brain to slide around inside the skull. This can result in damage to the brain cells. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), some observable signs of a concussion are: “not being able to recall events prior to or after a hit or fall, appearing dazed or stunned, forgetting an instruction, being confused about an assignment or position, or unsure of the game, score, or opponent, moving clumsily, answering questions slowly, losing consciousness (even briefly), and showing mood, behavior, or personality changes.”
Locally, schools and organizations within the City of Santa Clarita have taken up the gauntlet to better protect its youth against concussions in regards to “tackle football,” the sport most associated with these kinds of injuries. The Hart School District, private schools, and Pop Warner organizations have been making an effort to prevent the repercussions of concussions.
The Hart School District consists of the public high schools Canyon, Saugus, Hart, Valencia, West Ranch, and Golden Valley. It has a partnership with Henry Mayo Hospital, which hires athletic trainers to be at each of the six schools. It was the first school district to hire such people. The athletic trainers’ main function is to oversee rehabilitation of injuries, making sure the proper protocol is followed so students can safely return to playing the game as soon as possible.
Dave Caldwell, the public relations officer of the Hart District, says the district “is very fortunate to have a full time, certified athletic trainer at each of the six schools. They make sure the athletes are healthy enough to play.”
The Hart District is part of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) southern section, which oversees athletics in the state of California. Because it is a contact sport, there are rules put in place to prevent injuries, which include limiting the time spent on full contact practices in order to prevent the opportunity for students to suffer concussions. Caldwell also mentions there is an emphasis nationwide on training coaches to teach tackling techniques that do not require players to use their heads. There are even penalties “when players are leading with their heads or hit someone in the head with their heads,” known as targeting.
The local private Christian schools, Santa Clarita Christian (SCCS) and Trinity Classical Academy, are also working toward protecting their students.
All of Santa Clarita Christian’s coaches take a national course with the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) in football and concussion safety before coaching students. They are always observing tackling and blocking techniques, and constantly work toward better ways that do not involve the head taking the brunt of the force. According to Mark Bates, the Athletic Director at SCCS, there have been major changes in how the game is played since he played football many years ago, when players would tackle headfirst.
These days, players tackle with the chest and shoulders, with the head being behind the body when the action occurs. The same thing goes with blocking. When Bates played football, players would block by hitting the opponents with their heads. Now, players are taught to use their hands. Helmets are another avenue in which the school is preventing concussions.
According to Bates, a helmet’s “primary use was to prevent lacerations on the head,” not to protect the brain from being jarred. This is not the case anymore, as the school uses newer helmets that better protect the head from hits as well as cuts. Like the Hart District, Santa Clarita Christian hires athletic trainers, but they are only are present at games. Bates says the school is working on getting them for practices as well. Despite these concerns, the school has not noticed a decrease in football registration.
Trinity Classical Academy is also working toward preventing concussions. According to Dr. Matthew J. Dixon, the Director of Athletics and Dean of Spiritual Life, the school has “been (obviously) having all coaches do the required CIF concussion training.” He says the school is “also exploring with better ways to register and account for injuries (including concussions), using tools like Player’s Health,” which, according to playershealth.com/about, is an interactive software that allows coaches to monitor and document injuries that happen while playing football. Coaches are also more aware of the consequences of a concussion injury, and therefore bench students over the slightest suspicion of one. As far as the school’s registration numbers for the football team, they have stayed the same 27 to 30 students, which Dr. Dixon says is normal for a school such as theirs.
The Pop Warner organizations say they are doing their part, as well.
The Saugus Spartans football organization, for example, requires all their coaches to pass an exam with USA Football. This exam includes recognizing concussion symptoms. If a concussion is recognized, the player is taken off the field and will need to be cleared by a doctor before returning to the sport. All of the teams have a medic on site during games, and someone who is medically trained available during practices. The president of the organization, Tony Moore, is in his seventh year at Saugus Spartans. In his time there, he says he has only been aware of two concussions, and both of those injuries were initiated by illegal hits from the opposing team.
Santa Clarita Cowboys is another Pop Warner organization that is striving to keep its kids safe. Like Santa Clarita Christian, all their coaches are trained in heads up tackling, which is tackling without using the head. According to Michael Haiby, the president, the rules have changed since twenty years ago. Players can no longer blindside the opposition, nor tackle with the head. He said that in 1999, coaches used to say to players, “go smack heads,” before going out onto the field. Obviously, this is not the case anymore.
Requirements for certification and inspection of helmets have also become stricter. Haiby says the organization uses the brands Riddell and Schutt for their helmets, and they are no more than four to five years old. The maximum number of years a helmet can be used is ten, but Haiby says a lot can change with helmets in a decade, as they can wear down from seasons of use.
Helmets are required to be conditioned every two years; however, the Santa Clarita Cowboys have their helmets inspected every year after the season is over. This is to keep their helmets looking new and clean, as well as making sure they are in top condition.
When helmets are recalled to be inspected, they are dropped from four or five feet to see if they crack. This is called drop testing. The helmets are also buffed down so the finish can be seen, called inspection reconditioning. In a nutshell, the helmets are literally taken apart and put back together to determine if they meet the requirements. If the helmet is deemed safe and competent, new pads are put in the inside of the helmet and a sticker is placed on the back, labeling it as successfully inspected. It is then shipped back to the organization to be used again.
All the coaches at Santa Clarita Cowboys are also required to take the CDC’s concussion class. When a concussion is spotted, they fill out paperwork detailing the specifics and send the player with the paperwork to a medically trained professional who treats the injury. The player then must be cleared by a medical professional before getting back into the sport. Haiby says, “We are more aware of concussions these days, and we are watching what we are doing.”
Helmets and Other Concussion Risks
Not only are schools and organizations working on preventing concussions, so are helmet companies. Both Riddell and VICIS are working towards preventing concussions. According to Riddell’s website, they came out with the “Insite Impact Response System,” which is technology that can “monitor and record significant head impacts sustained during a football game or practice” in 2013. This technology is located inside the helmet, and is commonly used with high schools.
VICIS is also a major player in concussion prevention technology. Their newest helmet is the ZERO1. According to their website, “it is Virginia Tech’s top-rated 5-star helmet.” Virginia Tech is a public, land-grant university research center. The technology in the ZERO1 helmet can be used with high schools as well as college and the NFL.
It is worth noting, however, that football is not the only sport where players can risk obtaining concussions.
According to a study by the American Journal of Sports, girl’s soccer also has a high tendency for concussions. This makes sense, as players are not required to wear helmets, but are susceptible to being hit in the head by a soccer ball. During the game, there are times where the ball is kicked into the net or passed to other people that can result in players being accidentally hit in the head. Since the players do not have any protection for their heads, they are more likely to suffer from a concussion.
Flag football also has a tendency to produce concussion injuries, because players are not required to wear helmets. According to Michael Haiby, the president of Santa Clarita Cowboys, most of the concussion injuries come from catching passes when the players dive for the ball and fall on the ground.