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Bill to improve concussion safety in youth sports draws mixed emotions in Tri-States

As parents watching from the sideline, its hard not to worry about hard hits to the head while your kids are playing sports.

The issue is again making national headlines, with Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin leading a movement to improve concussion safety in youth sports.

This comes as the National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that about 140,000 students playing high school sports suffer concussions every year.

A bill moving through Washington aims to address the long-term dangers of concussions. But, the so-called ‘When in Doubt, Sit it Out’ policy draws mixed feelings from Tri-State parents, coaches, players and doctors.

It’s no secret, a physical contact sport like football can raise health concerns.

“Here’s one, watch his head on the ground,” Pittsfield High School Head Football Coach Paul Petty said.

Petty said he sees hard hits to the head every game, some hard enough to prompt concussion protocol.

“We’re asking 14, 15, 16-year-old kids to do something not many people would do,” Petty said. “That’s asking them to run 22 MPH, full speed for 60 yards down field and then hit someone as hard as you can.”

Pittsfield’s football team, and others, now have sensors inside helmet to indicate hard contact.

Player Cody Walston has experienced hits hard enough to set off the sensor.

“When he turned, we both hit going full speed and I got up and was dazed acting and they said that the concussion thing had went off,” Walston said.

Petty said his team has a practiced concussion protocol with trainers in place. However, he’s often forced to overcome, what he calls, the scares circulating in today’s society.

“A gross misunderstanding about what a concussion is, that every child that hits their head either on the ground or a head-to-head collision, automatically has a concussion just because I saw stars, which is not necessarily true,” Petty said.

While local football coaches said they do have a concussion protocol, along with with special helmets to keep their kids safe, doctors at Illini Rural Health Clinic said there are some things these helmets can’t prevent.

“It’s disruption in the function of the brain,” Dr. James Uhles with Illini Rural Health Clinic Pediatrics said. “You definitely can have long-term affects, with concussions. Fortunately, we don’t see that very often, but with repeated concussions, there is an increased risk of having long-term problems, post-concussion syndrome, those sorts of things.”

Those risks are enough for Quincy mother Robin Lugering to rule out football for her 12-year-old twin boys, Aidin and Matthew.

“They play basketball, they scooter, they do everything else but football because I won’t let them do the football thing,” Lugering said.

She said the hard hits and tackles lead to concussions and she wants her sons’ to have no part in that.

“I waited too long for those two and I just don’t want too many problems with that,” Lugering. “I want to see them grow, see them learn, I want the most out of those two.”

If passed, the federal ‘When in Doubt, Sit it Out’ bill would prevent student athletes suspected of having a concussion from returning to play the same day.

They would only be allowed to play after being cleared by a healthcare professional.

The bill would direct public school districts to develop concussion safety guidelines, which includes educating athletes, coaches, teachers and parents.

The bill has been endorsed by major professional and college sports organizations, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA.

Doctors said symptoms of a concussion include nausea, dizziness, trouble concentrating, headaches and loss of memory.

Smaller, repetitive hits to the head are also something doctors and experts have shed more light-on in recent years, which can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other kinds of brain diseases. There have been several cases of this in professional football players or those who play the game for many years.


Kara Biernat

Kara Biernat is a MultiMedia Journalist for WGEM News.

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