Bits & Pieces: Concussions in sports is too big of a problem to ignore any longer

The numbers of kids playing football at the Pop Warner and youth levels in this country has dropped precipitously according to a report released this past week. For Pop Warner football alone, that's a drop of over 9 percent, or about 23,000 kids. The numbers may be trying to tell us all something, and that is that parents are worried about injuries to their children and specifically trauma to the head which can have serious implications now and later in life.

The recent rash of concussion studies and the images of players like Tony Dorsett having something called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is troubling to parents. There is another factor that few people have talked about that may be related to the drop in kids playing football and that is the mom factor.

Playing football used to be a decision between dad and son. It was a given. My grandfather played football, I played football and it was a given that Junior would follow in their footsteps. Now Mom has entered the picture and is taking a bigger role in whether Junior plays or not.

There may be some help on the way. I think we can all agree that everybody wants to be able to play football safely. But we have to remember that football is not alone in causing head injuries, although football is taking the brunt of the finger pointing.

While the professionals in the NFL and colleges have doctors available on the bench, and some high schools like those in Howard County have a concussion protocol, youth football players don't have that luxury. They have no professional support to recognize when a youngster has taken a blow and may have a concussion. Some figure that at that age, how hard can these kids hit? Apparently they can hit hard enough. But how do kids know they have sustained a concussion?

Now an organization has developed a device called Brain Sentry which can be placed on the back side of a football helmet. The Sentry has an impact sensor on it that shows green when the head has not sustained a concussion hit but will show red when an athlete experiences that big hit. The player can then be removed for a concussion assessment. The red light will blink once every three seconds and that blinking red light should be visible to the coaching staff or to other players to alert those in charge that the youngster has to leave the field.

The Sentry underwent its feasibility study in 2011, went through field testing in 2012 and was officially launched in 2013. The cost of the device is $50 and the sentry should be replaced annually. It is currently undergoing more testing in different parts of the country.

If this device works, its cost appears to me to be reasonable. Anything that can help us to identify concussions when they occur and not days, weeks or months later seems to be worth the investment.

Wolfe is on the mend

It was a close call for Reservoir's Physical Education teacher and coach Karen Wolfe, who was severely injured in a fall from a ladder a few months ago. In her own words, Karen told assistant sports editor Andrew Conrad "that I have no cause for complaint as I could easily be paralyzed or dead based on the number of fractures found."

Karen, who started the varsity softball program at Reservoir after the school opened in 2002, was the school's basketball coach for one year at the junior varsity level and three at the varsity level and she also coached field hockey and tennis. She will mend, thank goodness, but it will take time before she returns to Reservoir to assume her duties full time. I know the people at Reservoir are thinking of Karen every day.

We wish her the speediest of recoveries. The likes of Karen Wolfe are not easily replaced.

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