The safety of high school football still is being scrutinized on a national level.
Some NFL players, including **xxxx , have said they would not allow their sons to play football because of the inherent dangers of such a collision sport.
Bob Cantu, a prominent concussion expert, believes children should not be allowed to play any collision sport, including football, before the age of 14 because adolescent brains still are developing.
But in the face of studies linking concussions with long-term health complications, high school football ended a five-year downward trend in participation in 2013 when almost 1.1 million boys and girls played at National Federation of State High School Associations football schools.
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The actual number of participants is higher since not all of the nation’s high schools are associated with the Federation, which is a national organization for state associations such as the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Bob Gardner, the executive director of the Federation, believes awareness in concussion management on the state and national level along with rule changes and state laws mandating concussion protocols have allayed some fears about the threat of concussions among the parents of high school football players.
“With the precautions that are in place nationwide to address concussions in all high school sports, including football, we have maintained that the risk of injury is as low as it ever has been,” Gardner said. “It isn’t much of an increase in football participation, but it is an increase.”
The Federation changed rules regarding kickoffs in an attempt to reduce the number of injuries and players who lose their helmets, sometimes a sign that helmets are not properly fitted, must leave games until their helmets are refitted.
Every state in the country now has legislation regulating the treatment of concussions on the interscholastic level. Several states, including North Carolina, may consider regulations to make the game safer.
“With the rule changes and the protocols, playing football may be safer than it has ever been,” Gardner said.
Nevertheless, at least four high school football players have died this season.
Rolesville High linebacker Isaiah Langston collapsed during pregame warmups on Sept. 26 and later died.
Tom Cutinella of Shoreman-Wading River High in New Jersey died following a serious brain injury. So did Jamond Salley of Mecklenburg County (Va.) Park View. Demario Harris, Jr., of Charles Henderson High School in Alabama died of a brain hemorrage after he took a hit, his father told CNN..
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research , 17 players died from direct or indirect causes while playing high school football in 2013.
Concussion laws vary from state to state, but most require an athlete who has a possible concussion to be removed from a game or practice and not return until cleared by a medical provider.
North Carolina’s Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act, which became law in 2011, requires every public middle school and high school in the state to educate players, coaches and parents about concussions; to develop an emergency action plan; and to implement a post concussion protocol including return to play or practice following a possible concussion.
Thirteen states have laws that cover all youth sports, not just high school athletics, and a few state high school athletic associations have regulations that limit the amount of full body-to-body contact during football practice.
Kevin Guskiewicz, the head of the Matthew Gfeller Center, a sports-related traumatic brain injury research facility at the University of North Carolina, said an all youth sports requirement was considered when the Gfeller-Waller Act was written.
“There were questions about how you enforce it,” Guskiewicz said. “The key may be that you regulate groups that use public fields. Expanding the law might be the next step.”
The push in 2011 was to pass a law in the wake of the deaths of high school football players Matthew Gfeller of Winston-Salem’s R.J. Reynolds High and Jaquan Waller at Greenville’s J.H. Rose following brain injuries.
Que Tucker, the NCHSAA associate commissioner, emphasized during a recent meeting with athletic directors, principals and superintendents that the Gfeller-Waller Act is the law.
“It is not a recommendation,” she said. “It is the law.”
A recent Department of Public Instruction audit found 13 systems were not in compliance.
Most of the violations were for things such as failing to have an emergency action plan posted at every athletic venue. But Tucker stressed that every athlete has to provide a signed concussion awareness form before beginning any practice.
The Federation held a conference on concussions in July and recommends that squads limit full contact practices to three days a week.
“From what we are hearing, most teams in the country are already doing that,” Gardner said. “In general, high school teams probably are teaching and instructing more and hitting less.”
Texas and Arizona are among the states that have passed legislation that limit the amount of contact at high school football practices.
The University Interscholastic League in Texas, the equivalent of the NCHSAA, now limits full contact practice to 90 minutes a week. The Arizona Interscholastic Association limits full pads preseason practices to half or less of all preseason practices.
Davis Whitfield, the N.C. High School Athletic Association commissioner, said there had been some discussion of limiting full contact in football practice.
“But right now, our coaches are telling that a rule limiting contact in practice is not needed because our schools don’t have a lot of body-to-body hitting,” Davis said. “Limiting contact is certainly something we’d consider, but it doesn’t look like we need it.”
The forms, which must be signed by a parent or legal custodian, have to be on file before the child participates in tryouts.
Some coaches in the past held parent information meetings after the team had been chosen.