In less than two weeks, the West High School Eagles open the 2013 football season. The pressure is on to shake off the summer rust and get into football shape. Coach Tim Davis finds himself balancing the rigors of two-a-days with player safety.
District guidelines require Davis or his assistants to remove a player the minute they show signs of a concussion.
"The thing about science now is that it's not all conclusive,” said Davis, who’s entering his fifth season as West’s head coach. “Not every concussion is the same. Not every child is the same, so that makes it a very difficult situation to diagnose."
In 2011, the Alaska Legislature passed a bill protecting students from serious brain injuries caused by multiple concussions. The law requires school districts to put safeguards in place for student-athletes.
"They're tested the first time for baseline, to get kind of the normal mark,” Davis said. “If they have a concussion, someone trained to read that can confirm if they're good to go or not."
The Anchorage School District also provides training for coaches and staff in its policy to recognize signs of a concussion. Athletes have to be removed from competition at the first sign of concussion-like symptoms, and can’t return to action until they’re symptom-free.
Davis tries to teach his players life lessons through the game of football and that listening to your body is more important than your pride.
"I think a lot of guys take big hits and don't realize how bad it is, or want to be tough, and say, 'I can take big hits, my head is fine,'” said quarterback Sam Wedin. “But I think sometimes you have to be really self-conscious."
Davis says team helmets are refurbished every few years to keep them safe, although top-of-the-line helmets can cost up to $400. Some schools resort to fundraising to help pay for them.
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