PARKERSBURG - As the new football season approaches, players across the Mid-Ohio Valley have been preparing for a new season by learning the proper ways to block and tackle opposing players and also how to keep themselves safe from injuries.
Over the past few years, concerns about concussions to young athletes have been brought to the forefront across the country with coaches and players concentrating on keeping safe from an injury that may not be apparent until several days later.
Coaches and trainers at the three Parkersburg high school football programs say they have taken precautions to make the rough-and-tumble sport safer and as injury-free as possible.
Photo by Jeffrey Saulton
Payton Sturm, a senior member of the Parkersburg Catholic High School football team, shows the inside of today’s football helmets that contain cells filled with a gel, or more commonly, air. Helmets used by local programs are returned to the manufactures at the end of each season for reconditioning and are certified for use the next year.
Parkersburg South High School head football coach Mike Eddy said concussions in football are always an issue.
"It's always a concern, especially as our athletes mature," he said. "Players in general get stronger and faster every year as compared to what it was 10 years ago or more."
Eddy said since the players are stronger and faster, the risk of injury increases. While they may be stronger and faster, it does not mean the human body is changing to keep pace with the changes.
At a Glance - Concussions
* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way the brain normally works.
* Symptoms may include headache or "pressure" in head, nausea or vomiting, balance problems or dizziness, double or blurry vision, sensitivity to light or noise, feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy, concentration or memory problems, confusion and not "feeling right" or "feeling down."
"Fortunately the helmet industry is trying to combat that and is doing a great job and is continuing to change to combat those things," he said.
Dan Reeves, head coach at Parkersburg High School, said improvements in equipment over the years has lessened the likelihood of concussions.
"There's less likelihood because of the equipment compared to what our grandfathers wore back in the '40s and '50s, leather helmets and suspension straps," he said. "They didn't have face masks and mouthpieces."
Reeves said the helmet padding has pockets instead of a solid piece covering the in side of the helmet.
Reeves and Eddy said the average life span of a helmet is about four to five years.
Rick Tennant, athletic trainer at Parkersburg Catholic High School, said the helmets are sent to the manufacturer for testing, a practice that is repeated at schools across the state.
At Parkersburg's three high schools, the helmets, whether they are used or not, are sent to the factory for reconditioning and are tested in drop tests for cracks, the padding is replaced and the shell is repainted, which provides even more protection. Regulations require helmets to have stickers on them showing they have been tested and are certified as safe for use for another season.
Coaches said the helmet is a like a piece of a puzzle in protecting players. They also make sure the players have mouth guards that are a proper fit since the mouth guard along with the chin strap helps to absorb some of the shock from a tackle.
Eddy said they take steps to make sure there are no injuries.
"We try to take as many steps as possible to reduce those," he said. "It's a requirement for our staff members to do equipment checks every Thursday."
Coaches and trainers at all schools go through training from the state of West Virginia to make them aware of what to look for if they suspect a player has suffered a concussion.
"All of our coaches go through a training program on line through the Secondary School Activities Commission which gives us guidelines and indications on what to look for," Eddy said.
Indications for concussions include recurring headaches, nausea, difficulty remembering plays, feeling light-headed or confused. Eddy said at times the symptoms of a concussion will not be evident until a day or two later.
"I can think back to when I had a concussion. I was able to go back and locate the event, but I didn't have any symptoms until two or three days later," he said. "We always monitor the players, as a coach you have to know your player well enough to know if he is a little off."
Tennant said coaches and trainers are cautious in returning a player who suffered a concussion to practice and playing.
"Once we determine they have had a concussion and they see a doctor, they cannot return to practice or playing until they are cleared by a doctor," he said.
Tennant said the players at Parkersburg Catholic are given an examination at the Pars Brain and Spine Institute prior to the season.
"With this we can assess the players if we suspect they may have been injured," he said.
Reeves said while concussion injuries do occur, there has been no increase in the numbers.
"We have not seen any more injuries or concussions in the last few years than we had 10 years ago," he said. "We are overly cautious now."
When a player is returning to play after a concussion, Reeves said trainers will do field tests to bring that player back into practice slowly just like they would do with any other injury.
"It's a slow process where they are allowed to do more as they get better," he said. "It goes to the last step to where they are allowed to put the equipment on again."