For the Tribune-Courier
In the eyes of the rabid football fanatic, there’s nothing more exhilarating than a “de-cleater.”
You know the type of bone-jarring hit, a lick delivered by a defensive stalwart that echoes throughout the stadium while punishing the ball carrier.
There was a time when football players joked about having their “bell rung” or not exactly knowing where they were after being “stuck,” but there is a new push to make sure that players are physically all right to go back out on the field. Concussions are on the minds of medical professionals and coaches who have their players’ best interest at heart.
“The culture has changed,” said Marshall County football coach Ron Barnard. “We are starting to see concussions at the elementary and middle school levels. If there is any inkling that a player has a concussion, he is done. You err on the side of caution because there is no ballgame that is worth it.”
Once an injury that was laughed off or swept under the rug, the concussion and the seriousness of its repercussions are on the forefront of those involved.
A concussion (also known as a traumatic brain injury) is an injury that occurs when the brain is shaken so forcefully that it rattles inside of the skull. Symptoms of a concussion may include a loss of consciousness, confusion, headache, nausea or vomiting, blurred vision, drowsiness and a loss of memory of events surrounding the injury.
Concussions are clearly serious if they leave their victim unconscious for more than a few minutes, but sometimes a seemingly mild concussion can do extensive damage.
Research has shown that athletes who have repeated concussions are more likely to sustain long-term brain damage, including a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a brain disease that mimics dementia.
On the football field, precautions are being taken at every possible level. By teaching proper form tackling and instilling the importance of avoiding helmet-to-helmet contact, the chances of sustaining a concussion drop dramatically.
“We teach proper tackling technique every practice,” Barnard said. “It’s on every practice schedule. Repetition, repetition, repetition – we have to get the message across to the kids, so they see it over and over and over so it will sink in.”
Barnard played prep football at Union County High School and collegiately at Murray State University as a tight end during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He remembers being on the receiving end of a concussion during his playing days.
Knocked for a loop, Barnard said that personnel stuffed ammonia tablets up his nose in order to bring him back around to get him back on the field. Barnard has seen the impact of concussions up close and personal as a player and as a coach.
“If we remotely think that a kid has a concussion, he is done,” Barnard said. “There is no discussion.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency rooms across the United States have seen an increase of 60 percent in the number of sports-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) visits.
The organization also states that 71 percent of all recreation-related TBI emergency room visits were among males, and that those aged 10-19 that were injured most often while playing football or bicycling. Football injuries ranked the highest among males with a little more than 55,000, which averages 0.47 per 1,000 athletes.
While most of the mainstream media attention on concussions has centered on professional football and the National Football League, women athletes are certainly not immune from concussions and their symptoms.
Girls ages 10-19 are most likely to receive a TBI injury while playing soccer, basketball or bicycling, according to the CDC. Soccer injuries ranked the highest among females with a little more than 29,000, which averages 0.36 per 1,000 athletes.
Marshall County girls soccer coach Michael Boone is no stranger to concussions. A former Marshals soccer player who has spent the past 13 seasons with the Lady Marshals (six as head coach), Boone has seen the push to take concussions seriously evolve in recent years.
“Back when I played, there was the shake-it-off mentality,” Boone said. “But nowadays, we obviously want players to let us know so we can get them checked out.”
As one would imagine, most of the head injuries related to soccer come from headers and when players knock noggins. And like Barnard, Boone focuses on proper techniques to help reduce concussions for his players. Boone said that the Lady Marshals use neck muscle strengthening techniques to help avoid concussions while focusing on power from their hips and torso.
“With the header, you want to hit the ball with your hairline,” Boone said. “If you hit with the top of the head, it is a little softer.”
Once a player sustains a concussion, the chances that he or she will suffer another TBI are much greater. According to Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky, high school athletes are three times more likely to sustain a second concussion.
“When you get that second concussion, there are other consequences,” Boone said.