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South Carroll mothers get crash course in football safety, concussions

A sense of irony permeated the field as Kathy Summerlin and 40 other women ran out of the oversized South Carroll Cavaliers football helmet, a device crafted in the image of perhaps the most important piece of protective equipment a football player dons.

In an age when the danger of concussions is only just now coming to light despite the organized sport's existence in its current form since the 1960s, Summerlin said she was glad to have an opportunity to learn more about the game.

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"It's kind of fun running through the helmet," she said. "Realizing how much [the kids] put into it, it's more strenuous than you think it would be."

Summerlin, whose son is a senior who plays football at South Carroll High School, was one of more than 40 mothers participating in the teams' third annual Football 101 class. The class is a crash course in the basic mechanics and philosophies of the school's football program, said A.J. Rusbosin, a South Carroll alumnus and wide receivers coach for the team.

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Defensive line coach Dan McMunn said Towson University's football program held a similar class several years ago, and "Team Mom" Rachel Kelly thought it would be a way to drum up support for the program.

"Rachel brought it back here to act as a fundraiser and to raise awareness," McMunn said. "It gives them an idea what their kids go through."

During the class, the women had a chance to put on chest protectors, a jersey and a helmet to instill in them an appreciation of the protection the equipment offers their children.

Head coach Steve Luette said that in the past five years, Carroll County adopted a concussion policy —mandated by the state — intended to reduce the number of concussions youth athletes suffer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a worldwide nonprofit involved in medical care, research and education, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury usually caused by a blow to the head, and its symptoms include dizziness, headaches and a loss of memory, balance and coordination. Repeated concussion can lead to severe brain damage and increase the likelihood of developing epilepsy.

According to Head Case, a grass-roots organization that advocates for the protection of young athletes from the risks of undetected cumulative concussions, 3.8million youth concussions were reported in the U.S. in 2012 — twice the number reported in 2002 — and one in five high school athletes will suffer a sports-related concussion during the season.

Several significant changes in the diagnosis and prevention of these injuries were a result of the new county policy, Luette said.

"We now ease player [who has had a concussion] back in," he said.

Prior to the policy, when a player was medically cleared by a doctor, he was allowed to fully participate in practice, Luette said.

"Now we take five days to slowly work him back in," he said. "He'll start with light workouts and each day is allowed to do a little bit more."

Another big change relates to who conducts the initial diagnosis of a player suspected to have a concussion, Luette said.

"A trainer now will decide if [a player] has a concussion," he said. "Before that, it was all on the coach. We are really trying to maintain the health of the player."

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Kelly said another change that has come about in recent years is a defined heat acclimation procedure to prevent exhaustion and dehydration.

"It's a progressive way to get to full pads," she said. "This is all about getting the knowledge out there for those who don't pay attention to that."

What has not changed, Luette said, is how much he and the other coaches stress proper tackling techniques, which are a key component of concussion prevention.

"We spend a lot of time on tackling, so the deal is this is how to tackle and how not to tackle," he said. "We ask them in practice to show us the right way again and again. Not at full speed but just so they can get the techniques down. We do that all the time during practice."

Summerlin said the possibility of her sons suffering a concussion scares her, and that's why she discouraged them from participating in an organized football program while they were younger. Her youngest son, 13, just joined a recreational league, she said.

"It does worry me, but they didn't play when they were young because it's more dangerous with your body developing," she said.

This worry subsided somewhat after she attended Football 101 last year for the first time, Summerlin said.

"After trying [the helmet on] I don't know how they get concussions because they are so tight," she said.

Kelly said she has been lucky in that her son has never suffered a concussion, but she appreciates parents' justifiable concern and doesn't begrudge those who prevent their children from participating.

"I'm sure it does scare them away, but a lot of this depends on good equipment," she said. "The most important thing is that while high school football is great they have to live a life after that."

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