Football players, coaches fight war against concussions

The fear of concussions and the impact they have on athletes in all sports has taken on significant import, especially with parents of these potential stars.

When Boston University’s recent study on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalothopy) was announced in the Journal of the American Medical Association over the summer, citing that 110 of the 111 brains submitted by the estates of deceased NFL players showed signs of CTE, it sent out shockwaves.

And those waves have indeed reached into the high school ranks.

“I definitely think it cost us a player or two,” said Hollis Brookline coach Chris Lones. “People are definitely talking about it.”

According to the JAMA, the brain samples of former high school players did not show results near the college or even professional levels.

In fact, there are studies that show that soccer is just as dangerous a source of concussion as is football.

One coach from the region, when asked about concussions, wasn’t sure if his numbers might be affected by the recent attention being paid to head trauma. He did notice that parents had inquired about potentially purchasing their own helmets, as more expensive and “safer” – depending on who you talk to – models hit the market.

Still, the momentum is building. Milford coach Keith Jones says his football numbers are up, with 76 athletes turning out for two-a-days.

Jones, a longtime veteran on the sidelines, says that concussions have been as much of an issue for his program, and he credits an effort by his staff as the main reason for it.

“We try to think we do a good job with how we practice,” Jones said. “It’s about how we teach tackling and the work we do in our drills to make sure it’s done properly, with bags and with tackling wheels. We do as much as possible to avoid the massive blows. We haven’t had a ton of concussions.”

Concussions in all high school sports remain serious business, both with the National High School Federation and with the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.

At its website, nhiaa.org, the NHIAA has an entire page dedicated to concussions, helping parents of student-athletes first to assess, diagnose and understand the protocol when concussion is a possibility.

Bishop Guertin is one of a growing number of high school football programs who now require its football players to don an extra, “soft” level of padding on their helmets during practice. The padding is meant to blunt the severity of collisions and help coaches teach proper techniques.

When the Cardinals took the field in a scrimmage Saturday morning at Bedford, they wore those practice shells over their helmets. The padding does come off on game day, though.

“We’ve got to take the time and effort to keep our kids healthy and get our athletes out there on the field,” said HB’s Lones, who greeted just 42 candidates at tryouts this fall.

“To me, safety is and always will be most important.”