The concern for safety in high school sports gains national attention

Bridget Kane, Staff Writer

As many high school teams came together this fall to support their football programs, there was, as usual, a very competitive and energetic atmosphere. This season has unfortunately also seen discussions about injuries and deaths in numerous high school football programs. High school teams have been forced to deal with an unusually high number of injuries and deaths occurring throughout the nation. It forces us, as avid fans of the sport, to question why major accidents occur at the high school level but not during college or professional games, even though they are played at a much higher level. Fans and advocates of high school football are looking for a way to support the game despite its flaws, while opposers demand a response.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, there have been six deaths as a direct result of football. The number has increased to seven direct deaths so far this year, and 11 deaths in total. A study conducted by The American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2007 showed that high school football players suffer three times as many deaths, permanent disability injuries, neck fractures, and serious head injuries as college players.

Countless hours have been put into researching the cause of this unnerving statistic. It was found that the brains of high school students are not fully mature and therefore, are more susceptible to second- impact syndrome. 95 percent of people with this condition are athletes under the age of 18. Their brains, as well as other parts of their body, are more prone to injury because of worn-out equipment that most high school programs use due to budget cuts. As old helmets and important protection pads become worn, they are no longer fully protecting the body properly, potentially causing severe injuries.

On the topic of safety in high school sports, The National Athletic Trainers Association reports that only 37 percent of high schools nationally have full time athletic trainers on the job.Their job is to treat athletes for signs of a concussion, pulled muscles or strains, among many others, and advise the athlete on whether he should return to the game or not. Most of the time, the trainers advise athletes to see professional doctors – an opportunity that not every player has, thus making it important to have more trainers on the job at all times.

From small injuries to life- or-death situations, a trainer’s guidance can go a long way in the process to getting back on the field. To limit the number of injuries, the rules changed in 1976 by eliminating the head as being an initial point of contact when blocking and tackling. Dawn Comstock, an associate professor at the University of Colorado’s Colorado School of Public Health, explained, “If you really wanted to prevent the vast majority of injuries in football, you could do that if you took away tackling,” she said, “but then it wouldn’t be football anymore.”While many would see this as foolhardiness, it is actually a serious matter that needs to be given more thought for the safety of athletes in high school programs. There has even been evidence of brain damage appearing years after a player stops playing tackle football. Football has been a major American pastime since 1869, and it will always be even if the rules change in the upcoming year due to safety.