The impact of concussions is beginning to have an effect on the most important development vehicle: youth organized sports.Research shows that concussions have grown substantially in both amateur and professional athletics.In an Associated Press article written by Lauran Neergaard , the Institute of Medicine found that no one knows how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions or which sports have the highest rates. Nor is it clear if better headgear ever will help.
Reports of sports concussions are on the rise, amid headlines about former professional players who suffered long-term impairment after repeated head blows. Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school and community sports, it’s still not clear how many suffer concussions. One report said that among people 19 and younger, 250,000 were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001.
Youth football has the highest concussion rate for all youth sports. Followed by wrestling and cheerleading, traumatic brain injury (TBI) sends young athletes to emergency rooms every 25 seconds. Maplewood Richmond Heights High School the centerpiece event will be soccer, not football for the first time in the school’s history.
The school board in Maplewood, a St. Louis suburb, disbanded the high school’s football team in June, even though it reached the state championship game five years ago. Huge concerns are growing about football players’ safety, and soccer and other sports are gaining popularity.
“Over all, it was, ‘Can we field a team that is competitive and safe for the kids to perform? ” said Nelson Mitten, the president of the Maplewood Richmond Heights School Board, who said players’ injuries last season included a broken ankle, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a significant head injury. “Whenever you have anything like that, you have to be a responsible board and discuss what we can do to make sure we can field a team.”
The viability of football at the high school level remains unquestioned in most communities and is the conduit for college and professional players in the United States. Pop Warner, the largest and best known youth football organization, has seen decreases. It has also been sued by a parent of a player who committed suicide at 25 and was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked to repeated head hits.
Larry Murphy with AP reported that Evan Murray, the star quarterback at Warren Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, collapsed after a hit and later died. A lacerated spleen was found to be the cause of death. Murray was the third high school football player this season to die directly from injuries in a game. Five football players died last year, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
Ridgefield Memorial High School in New Jersey scrapped its varsity football program this season because only 13 students tried out. Camden Hills Regional High School in Maine announced last week that it would cancel the final five games of its football season because injuries had left the team with younger, less experienced players who were at risk of being injured as well.
Despite the popularity of college and professional football, the number of male high school football players has fallen to about 1.08 million this year, a 2.4 percent decline from five years ago.
No such tragedies have occurred at Maplewood. But the number and seriousness of the injuries to football players have weighed on parents, eroding support for what was once the school’s showpiece sport. More parents are enrolling their children in a growing number of youth soccer programs, leaving fewer students playing football by the time they reach high school.“The boys I’ve seen, they’re growing up with soccer,” said Betty Pearson, whose oldest son played football at Maplewood but whose youngest son plays soccer. “I come out, and there are 10 kids kicking the ball around in the street. I don’t think I’ve seen that with football.”
In 2010, the 300-student school had 38 players on the football team, twice as many as on the soccer team. Last season, only 20 students were on the football team, three fewer than the minimum recommended by the state. The team had to forfeit a game because injuries left the sideline depleted. A student who sustained a head injury sat out the rest of the season.
Declining youth participation rates have started to worry the N.F.L. because the league’s long-term health could be affected. The league has donated tens of millions of dollars to USA Football, which has been training coaches and promoting a safe-tackling program to reassure parents.
Youth leagues and high schools have followed the N.F.L.’s lead and reduced contact in practice, but most serious injuries occur in games. Safety standards also vary widely. Many schools, for instance, still do not require trainers and emergency workers to be present at games. Coaches are sometimes unable to recognize the symptoms of concussions and unwilling to take players out.
Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide said “we don’t want kids to stop playing sports. We want kids to be out there, to be playing safe and strong, and for a long period of time,” Carr said. “But what we are encouraging and what we’re calling our ‘game changers’ is to make sure everybody gets educated about how to prevent a serious sports injury.”
NBA superstar Lebron James recently said” basketball, baseball and soccer are allowed in my house,” “We don’t want them to play in our household right now until they understand how physical and how demanding the game is. Then they can have their choice in high school, we’ll talk over it,” he said. “But right now there’s no need for it. There’s enough sports they can play. They play basketball, they play soccer, they play everything else but football and hockey.
“It’s a safety thing. As a parent you protect your kids as much as possible. I don’t think I’m the only one that’s not allowing his kids to play football.