Concussion rates on the rise, athletes risking health

Concussions and concussion awareness are by far the most popular topics in sports medicine right now. In the last decade, there has been a large shift in the culture and attitude surrounding concussions and their treatment. Many high-profile sports injuries involving concussions have brought this injury to the center of attention, and with good reason: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 3.8 million Americans suffer concussions as a result of accidents and sports activities every year, and the amount of concussions in the NFL rose 32 percent from 2014 to 2015. This massive increase in concussion rates has prompted large-scale discussion on the dangers of concussions. A recent movie titled Concussion details a narrative of an NFL player that experiences significant mental deterioration as a result of multiple untreated concussions. The impact of this injury on athletes has come to the forefront of the sports medicine discussion, and scientists have only cracked the surface.
Concussions sustained while playing football have been shown to be the cause of a disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which is known to lead to suicide and mentally debilitating symptoms after retirement from the NFL. For years, the NFL denied that there were long-term consequences to the frequent head trauma undergone by football players. Efforts to bring awareness to the subject began in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2014, when a study announced that in 79 autopsies of former NFL players, 76 of the them were diagnosed with CTE.

The NFL has come into many legal issues with concussions as well. In 2012, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher shot and killed his fiancee before committing suicide in the parking lot of the Chiefs stadium. The team is being sued by the family of Belcher in a wrongful death lawsuit, claiming that the Chiefs ignored Belcher’s cries for help because of concussion-like symptoms. In 2013, five former Kansas City Chiefs players filed a lawsuit against the team, wishing to know just how much the team knew about concussions, and when they had that knowledge. The players felt they did not receive adequate treatment and thought they had the right to know that continuing to play football would put them at severe risk for disability later in life. The consequences of an untreated concussion are not to be ignored, and can potentially be fatal.

So then what is there to know about how this dangerous brain injury works, and what exactly is it? A concussion is usually a short-term brain injury caused by a jolt or sudden impact to the head, and can result in mild disturbance of brain function, usually without loss of consciousness. More rarely, concussions can cause brain swelling and permanent injury.

Symptoms of concussions include headache, dizziness, nausea, neck discomfort, difficulty thinking clearly, trouble focusing, and disturbed sleep patterns. Severe cases can include persistent vomiting, disorientation, unequal pupils, and partial or full loss of consciousness. If a person exhibits any of these symptoms, it is imperative that they receive an immediate and thorough evaluation of their symptoms by a qualified healthcare provider experienced in concussion evaluation. Without timely diagnosis and treatment, a mild concussion can potentially cause more serious complications including further brain trauma or a prolonged recovery. When treated, patients receive a standard set of instructions to manage the injury, including mental and physical rest. Generally, any activity that provokes the symptoms of the concussion should be completely avoided so as not to prolong recovery. These activities can include reading, texting, watching TV or playing video games, and physical activity. School and the work associated with it can also worsen symptoms, and accommodations are often made for students with concussions, such as increased time for assignments or test taking.

Most concussion patients return to sports or regular physical activities within three weeks after their symptoms begin. For athletes, the patient should be without symptoms for a full twenty-four hours before beginning physical activity. Once the patient has been without symptoms for a day, they begin a multi-phase progression of physical activity that may take several days if the patient has symptoms that return with increased physical activity. All athletes who sustain a concussion must pass an evaluation with specific criteria before returning to play, including final authorization from a healthcare provider that the patient is completely without symptoms.

Traditionally, athletes that play contact sports such as football, hockey, and lacrosse are at higher risk for concussions, though the majority of these injuries are a result of falls or motor vehicle accidents by non-athletes. Young athletes in particular are at a higher risk of concussion and take longer to recover than adults because their brains and bodies are still developing.
The frequency of this injury among young athletes around the country, as well as in professional athletes means that something must be done to protect the brains of these players. What needs to be looked at is exactly why concussion rates have risen so sharply in recent years, and how we can create an environment that will put young athletes at a much lower risk of serious brain damage due to contact sports. But for now, the important thing to remember is that if you experience these symptoms, or see someone experiencing these symptoms after a head injury or physical activity with contact, get them to a qualified healthcare provider immediately for an evaluation. Even a mild concussion left unchecked can result in serious brain damage. Simply knowing the signs can save someone’s mind.


“Concussion Rates on the Rise, Athletes Risking Health – The Tartan.” TheTartan. The Tartan, 31 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.


Coaches, players both benefit from youth sports experience

Specialist John Morken, of Dental Command 3 on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has three passions in life — sports, kids and coaching. He discovered the perfect trifecta when he was part of the Child, Youth and School Services at his first duty station on Camp Humphreys, Korea, where he focused on coaching youth football and basketball.

So when Morken was transferred to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and arrived in April 2014, he wasted no time in going to JBLM CYSS office to get a football coaching position and to find out when registration started for basketball.

According to Morken, it has been a perfect tool for a young, active-duty service member. He hopes more of his peers will coach youth sports on JBLM.

“Even if you have no experience in sports or coaching, it’s an awesome leadership tool,” Morken said. “It’s also an awesome networking tool, meeting all of these service members.”

Morken said it’s also very rewarding to have the opportunity to help military children learn the basic fundamentals of different sports.

CYSS offers a number of activities beyond just football and basketball — there’s baseball, soccer, archery and Special Olympics teams.

The number of volunteer coaches in the CYSS sports program falls between 200 and 300, about 80 percent of whom are actively serving on JBLM. But there is always a need for more.

Active-duty service members usually change duty stations every three years. The constant rotation leads to CYSS losing some of their youth coaches.

“A coach from five years ago isn’t likely coaching here right now,” said Cynthia Williams-Patnoe, the director of sports and fitness at JBLM CYSS.

One of the newest coaches in the program is Tallia Certain — a sergeant with the 4th Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. After arriving to JBLM from Fort Carson, Colo., in November, she said she was excited to get involved as a youth coach.

This is Certain’s first time coaching, but she had a small taste helping as one of the parent volunteers for her 11-year-old son Gregory’s basketball team at the YMCA near Fort Carson.

She said the experience helped her to better communicate with her own children.

“I’m learning how to talk to the kids (in) a different way than in my Army life,” Certain


Some coaches like Morken and Certain said they enjoy their roles with the kids outside of the military because they feel comfortable with being around children. It’s especially true for Morken, who grew up in Wisconsin with seven siblings. Sports kept them active in the very small town of Cashton — the total high school population was a little more than 140 people.

Morken said he has dreams of making a post-military career in coaching. He is already involved with youth football program in Lakewood and would eventually like to coach at the high school level, he said.

“This is a perfect opportunity for an 18-year-old kid to get some coaching experience,” Morken said. “It worked out great (for me) because I wanted to get my foot in the door somewhere.”


SIEMON, Dean. “Coaches, Players Both Benefit from Youth Sports Experience.” Northwest Guardian. Northwest Guardian, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Trend in youth sports could lead to higher injury and burnout


There’s a trend in youth sports that’s leading to some unhappy athletes.

According to the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, youth specialization is on the rise. The journal says this trend point to burnout, something athletic trainer Kristen Miller echoes.

“What I’ve noticed and it’s a growing trend over the years, and it’s kind of scary, kids now more and more are being pressured to focus on  one sport and train year round.”

Miller says the side effects of that can go well beyond the training room.

“A lot of them have psychological issues from having to play so much and they don’t want to. They’re doing it because their parents want them to and they don’t want to let them down”.

Another concern, athletes that focus on just one sport to to have injuries caused by overuse. But at Rockford University, head trainer Holli Newcomer says that’s not necessarily the case with athletes that play different sports year round.

“Just think about it as cross training. Even the pro athletes have an off season. They’re not doing a bunch of different sports.  But they’re training to things that hit those target muscles.”

Head RVC softball coach Darin Monroe says he typically recruits multi-sport high school athletes.

“My goal when they get to college is they’re still fresh, they’re still excited about playing the game of softball. We haven’t started the decline their passion for the game.”

Playing a variety of sports in high school is something RVC pitcher Logan Byers is thankful for.

“I think playing three sports helped me from getting burned out from any of the sports.”

But for catcher Hannah Long, who has specialized in one sport from a young age, softball is solely a labor of love.

“I really wanted to put my all focus in softball because I knew that’s where I would play in the collegiate level. Softball has been my love. Anytime I’m upset I just go hit a bucket of balls at cages.


Sugden, Mary. “Trend in Youth Sports Could Lead to Higher Injury and Burnout.” – – Rockford’s News Leader. WREX, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Family takes precautions after son suffers two concussions in one year

FORSYTH – Tricia Shumaker thought she knew what uncontrollable crying was, she has three kids.

But she realized she’d never truly experienced it until her then-8-year-old son Hayden Shumaker fell and hit his head during warmups before a YMCA basketball game.

“I thought it was like when they sob when you don’t let them have something from the grocery store,” Tricia said. “But he could not stop. That’s one of the symptoms of a concussion.”

Eleven months later, Hayden suffered another concussion, leaving the Shumakers worried about their son’s future.

While the chances of a concussion are higher for a child playing sports, the risk is different depending on the sport, limiting activity comes with its own health risks. The Shumakers struggle everyday trying to protect Hayden from any more damage to his brain, but also letting their 10-year-old be an active child.

Hayden’s first concussion happened two years ago, January 2014. During warmups at a YMCA basketball game, a teammate slid on the floor to chase after a ball and accidentally took Hayden’s legs out from under him. He fell and hit the back of his head.

“It just … smacked,” Tricia said. “Everybody was like (draws air through clenched teeth).”

The coaches ran out to check on Hayden and helped him off the floor and he walked over to his parents.

“We sat there for awhile,” said Hayden’s dad, Mike. “But he just couldn’t quit crying.”

The Shumakers headed to the emergency room, but on the way Hayden told them he felt fine, so they went home. But once they got there, Hayden began vomiting, so they got back in the car and went to the emergency room.

Hayden was diagnosed with a concussion and told to rest. He missed a week of school. His doctor told him no TV or video games, but that was never an issue.

“He didn’t even want to watch TV or play video games, it was so weird to watch an 8-year-old not want to do that stuff,” Tricia said. “It got to the point where his homework started piling up, so we decided he should work on it. I sat with him while he was doing it and I could see that he was trying, but he was getting frustrated because what he was thinking in his head wasn’t coming out on paper and he kept having to erase things.

“As a mom, it was like, ‘Wow, his brain is … hurt.’”

Hayden’s symptoms went away after about two weeks. He returned to school after a week and eventually even back to the basketball court, and later the soccer field.

Eleven months later, in November of 2014, Hayden was at the MidState Soccer Complex in Decatur. Mike was coaching Hayden’s older brother’s team and, while playing with a friend, Hayden tripped and fell backward. His head bounced off the ground.

Hayden went over and laid down on some sandbags, then approached his dad in tears. A few minutes later, he vomited.

The Shumakers went back to their doctor the next day and discussed with her the possibility of Hayden not doing recess and PE anymore, but she discouraged that.

“She told us it can happen anytime, he could fall down the steps and hit his head,” Mike said. “You can’t put him in bubble wrap.”

But there are ways to protect the head. Tricia said she brought up concussion headgear and their doctor told them it was a good idea. The Full 90 Protective Headgear the Shumakers purchased, the cost is between $30 and $40, is designed for soccer, but Tricia makes Hayden wear the device for basketball, PE, recess, bike rides and skateboarding as well.

Hayden, now 10, doesn’t fight it. He loves soccer, he said can’t imagine life without it and dreams of playing it professionally. He also knows that another concussion, which would make it three in a two-year span, and sports are probably out.

Mike said Hayden is extremely cautious about head injury, “If he even bumps his head, he is paranoid and freaked out.” If he forgets to bring his headgear to a game, he won’t take the field.

“I’m scared of getting another concussion, but I just don’t want to miss out on anything,” Hayden said.

Mike, who has coached soccer for 20 years, has seen concussion awareness evolve from putting obviously concussed players back in games if they said they were OK to now taking no chances, often keeping a kid who has hit his head out of a game for precautionary measures even if they don’t show signs of concussion. Also, the United States Soccer Federation, which MidState is a part of, has banned headers for children 11 and under.

Mike also said more and more kids are wearing concussion headgear and predicted eventually they’ll be as common as shin guards, even though he’s not 100 percent sure the headgear is effective.

“The science hasn’t been proven whether or not they really make a difference, but something is better than nothing,” Mike said.

Hayden said he thought it helped.

“I hit my head with it on during indoor practice, it still hurt, but not as much,” he said.

But even with the headgear, Tricia and Mike are concerned damage has already been done. Though 15 months passed since his last concussion, Hayden still shows residual effects. He gets motion sickness frequently and suffers from headaches during physical exertion.

“It makes me think, even though it’s been more than a year, his brain still isn’t completely healed,” Tricia said. “And I wonder, ‘Is that going to be a long-term effect, is he always going to get motion sick?’”

Mike’s worry is that Hayden may do additional damage, sports are only going to become more physical as Hayden gets older.

“He’s only 10 and he’s had two already, that makes me nervous,” Mike said. “But he likes soccer too much. I couldn’t tell him he couldn’t play sports anymore.”


Conn, Justin. “Family Takes Precautions after Son Suffers Two Concussions in One Year.” Http:// Herald-Review, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Guest Commentary: In youth sports, rewards outweigh risks

Participation in youth sports involves risk. As parents, we all try to understand these risks, weigh them against the benefits, and decide whether it’s worth it to have our kids participate.

Today, one seemingly hears about concussion and its purported consequences at every turn. With the recent release of the movie “Concussion,” even Hollywood has weighed in.

The increased attention has been welcomed in many respects. Concussions are injuries to the brain and need to be taken seriously. Parents, athletes and athletic personnel now increasingly recognize this.

Yet the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to discern what is scientifically well-established, less well-established, or bunk.

The risks of concussion have become widely misunderstood. Concussions are no more frequent today than they were 20 years ago, even if we are better at identifying them. Although they are relatively common in youth sports, they are not inevitable. Football is one of the highest-risk sports, but only about 5 percent of high school athletes sustain concussions each season.

When athletes do sustain concussions, the vast majority recover completely, within days to a few weeks. Certainly, catastrophic outcomes can result from sports-related head trauma. Thankfully, extreme outcomes are rare, statistically about as common as death from lightning.

“Concussion” has contributed to the impression that a clear risk for NFL players is suicide from “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE). But multiple scientific organizations have examined whether concussions cause suicide, and none have found a causal link.

Whether playing in the NFL increases the risk of a unique brain disease like that described for CTE (or another neurodegenerative disease) remains unsettled. Important questions are being asked about what decades of exposure to head trauma might mean, but the research is still in its infancy.

What we can be confident about is that no reasonable scientific evidence exists to indicate that concussion in youth sports causes suicide or late-life neurologic, cognitive, or emotional problems.

Amid all of the discussion about concussion, the advantages of organized sports have been almost entirely neglected. This is unfortunate. Participation in youth sports is associated with innumerable benefits. These include healthier lifestyle habits and reduced obesity, as well as improved social relationships, school performance, self-esteem, and emotional adjustment.

So, should you let your child play contact sports like football, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, or wrestling? That involves lots of factors for each child, and is best made on an individual basis.

My wife and I will let our children play any of these sports. If they begin getting multiple concussions, we will re-evaluate the sensibility of participation with their pediatrician and medical specialists.

The scientifically established benefits of participation in organized sports outweigh the known concussion risks for my own kids. Playing youth sports today is apt to be less dangerous than ever given the broad increase in risk awareness and greater emphasis on player safety in rule-making, coaching and officiating.

Michael Kirkwood is a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by e-mail or mail.


Kirkwood, Michael. “Guest Commentary: In Youth Sports, Rewards Outweigh Risks.” – The Denver Post. Denver Post, 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

The Greatest Problem in Youth Sports

This coming Saturday we have four basketball games: 8:30, 11:00, 12:30 and 7:00. One game each for our four oldest kids.


To some of y’all, that sounds ridiculous and chaotic. To me, it sounds awesome. I can’t wait. My wife is in the first boat with y’all.

I’m coaching in three of those games and will be the cheerleader dad from the stands in the fourth.

But as much as I enjoy days like this coming Saturday, I have to keep reminding myself of one thing.

It’s the thing that I’d argue is the biggest problem in youth sports. The problem is that we’re making these sports about the adults and not the kids that are playing the youth sports.

Let me caveat my logic (or lack thereof) with a few things:

1. I think it’s perfectly fine for kids to want to win at whatever sport they’re playing, at whatever age. Participation trophies aren’t what you get in the real world, so I’m fine with them being competitive and wanting to win. I like that actually.

2. The youth sports culture is incredibly intoxicating and it takes the best-intentioned people (me included) and turns us into something we’re not proud of. We’ve witnessed threats to players, coaches, referees. Insults to opposing players, even their own children.

3. Studies are showing that multiple sports benefit a child’s athletic ability far more than being specialized in one sport so the pressure from parents and coaches to “pick a sport” at an early age is ridiculous in my opinion.

4. The only sports I played beyond high school were intramurals and sports where you could have a beer in the parking lot afterward, so again, not the expert here.

So let me explain where I see the biggest problem in youth sports being played out. The problem is that we’ve made it about us and not them.

Parents (again, me included when I’m at my worst) have turned this into a social form of competition and entertainment. It packs our calendars and fills our weekends.

But shouldn’t it be about teaching them to enjoy whatever game they’re playing?

We travel from practice to practice, game to game, oftentimes so we can be “proud of” watching little Johnny play a dozen sports. It’s entertainment.

But shouldn’t it be about them learning to compete in healthy ways?

And if we admit the truth, we want Johnny to be better than neighbor boy Jimmy. Even if Johnny and Jimmy are on the same team. Not for Johnny’s benefit but for ours. It’s the ugly side of competition.

But shouldn’t it be about teaching them how to be great teammates?

What if we acknowledged this reality and worked hard at shifting the focus back where it belongs? To the youth who are actually playing the youth sports.

Because it’s not about us, it’s about them.


State lawmakers look to expand concussion laws to cover students as young as the 5th grade

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (January 21, 2016) — A bill designed to prevent repeated head injuries in athletes as young as the fifth grade continues to advance through the statehouse.

Senate Bill 234 calls for expanding concussion protocol beyond the high school gridiron. Playing under the lights on Friday night can be dangerous, but right now state concussion laws are in place to protect high school football players. The new bill would expand concussion protocol down to the fifth grade and include intramural sports beyond football.

“I would strongly support expanding concussion protocol,” said Dr. Terry Horner, a neurosurgeon and consultant for the Colts and Indiana University.

He told the statehouse committee that expanding the concussion law is important because young kids are more vulnerable to traumatic head injuries.

“We don’t reach brain maturity until the mid-20s, so the more immature we are the greater our chance of having a concussion,” said Horner.

“Going down to the fifth grade and monitoring students is very important,” said Michael Duerson, whose brother, Dave, played in the NFL for the Chicago Bears before committing suicide after suffering concussions during his playing days.

Michael also suffers lifelong health effects from concussions.

“I take 20 pills a night to slow my brain to go to sleep and I take 13 pills in the morning to get me up again,” he said.

This week former IU star Antwaan Randle El said he regrets playing football because of the mental and physical toll it took on his body, including constant memory loss. Medical experts hope a new concussion law will encourage more students and parents to fully consider the risks of playing contact sports.

“We don’t want kids not participating in sports,” said Horner. “We don’t need more couch potatoes. We want kids to be active, so sports are important, but safe sports is our goal.”

Because the bill passed the Family and Children Services committee, the next step will be a vote in the full Senate, which could come as early as next week.



Wells, Jesse. “State Lawmakers Look to Expand Concussion Laws to Cover Students as Young as the 5th Grade.” CBS 4 Indianapolis News Weather Traffic and Sports WTTV. CBS 4 INDY, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

School said son suffered a concussion; parents sued to get him back on field

When Shawn Nieto felt the hit, he clutched the football tight, making sure not to lose his grip, even as his 16-year-old body fell limply to the ground.

When Erica Nieto saw the hit, she sprinted from her seat in the stands, down near the sideline and screamed for her son’s attention.

When the trainers at Cleveland High in Rio Rancho saw the hit, they ran onto the field to make sure their junior running back was okay.

This much, everyone agrees on. What happened in the seconds, minutes and days that followed the state semifinal playoff game ultimately led both sides to a courtroom. School officials say Shawn was knocked unconscious for 20 to 30 seconds. He suffered a concussion, they said, which meant under state law, he was forced to sit out seven days to recover — which meant he’d miss the following week’s state championship game.

But Shawn says he never lost consciousness, and his family insists he didn’t suffer a concussion. So they hired a lawyer and filed a motion in court last month, pleading with a judge to let Shawn play in the title game.

The case highlighted much of the confusion surrounding concussions, particularly as it concerns children and teenaged football players. In recent years, youth leagues across the country have changed the way they teach football. States have passed laws to ensure high schools monitor player safety better. And the NFL has tweaked its rules and aired public-service announcements to educate a football-crazed nation about head injuries.

Yet, there still remains uncertainty and inconsistency about head injuries in young athletes. Participation numbers continue to drop in many areas, and according to a Harris Poll last year, one in three parents lives in fear that their child will get a concussion and one in four prohibits their kids from playing contact sports because of concussion concerns. The same poll found 87 percent of adults can’t correctly define a concussion, and 37 percent say they’re confused about what a concussion is.

Parents have to sort through conflicting information. Doctors such as Bennet Omalu, the subject of the movie Concussion who is credited with identifying chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, and Robert Cantu, who co-authored the book Concussions and Our Kids, have said children shouldn’t play tackle football until the age of 14. Many other concussion experts say the science doesn’t yet support such a drastic conclusion.

And while football families try to sort out the facts, science and the proper precautions, the Nieto family is among those who say concussion hysteria has made the sport’s decision-makers overcautious at times.

“That’s the bogey-man blanket they’re throwing in sports now,” said Peter Nieto, Shawn’s father.

By barring Shawn from competing, the family said the school district violated his constitutional right to due process, his state constitutional right to participate in extracurricular activities and interfered with his educational opportunities.

School district officials in Rio Rancho, meanwhile, say they were just following the law and protecting the young player’s health and well-being.

When a state judge heard the case last month and was presented with the evidence in an Albuquerque courtroom, he felt he had no choice: Shawn Nieto, who may or may not have suffered a concussion one week earlier, was granted a temporary injunction and allowed to play in the state title game.

Shawn began playing youth football at age 7. His father competed in the sport, and his siblings were athletes too. His older sister even wrestled for the school team.

“As a mom, of course you’re concerned about how dangerous this is,” his mother, Erica, said this month in the first interview the family has done, “but I’ve always been an active parent when it comes to this stuff, attending practices, games, events to ensure if there is an injury, I’m there and able to seek medical attention as needed.”

Peter has coached wrestling and junior high football and said he’s gone through specific training related to concussions. “I’m not a professional by any means,” he said, “but I do know what people are concerned with.”

Standing just 5 feet 5 and 140 pounds, Shawn took over his team’s starting running back position midway through the season and went on to run for 931 yards and 18 touchdowns. His Cleveland Storm team, a preseason favorite to win state, posted an undefeated record.

The Nietos said the school never gave any training related to concussions, but they were given an informational sheet and required to sign a form.

The team breezed through the season, and despite his size, Shawn emerged as a key contributor. In the team’s playoff semifinal game, Shawn says he remembers everything. The Storm led and were charging down the field. Coaches called for an option play, and Shawn took the ball and began to make a cut. He saw an open field.

“I thought I was going to score,” he said.

But Shawn was yanked down by a horse-collar tackle and before he hit the ground, another player crashed into him, their helmets colliding.

Shawn lay still on the ground. Trainers hovered over him. They say he was unconscious. Shawn says the wind was knocked out of him and he was merely catching his breath.

He eventually rose to his feet and when he reached the sideline, he gave his mother a thumbs up.

Team trainers administered a memorization test, and he correctly recalled two of the three words he was told to remember. He said he was distracted watching the game and missed one. He was given a balance test, too, and says he passed.

After the game, Shawn told his parents he felt fine. He didn’t have a headache and didn’t ask for medicine. He rode a bus three hours back to school, and coaches then allowed him to drive home alone from there.

“If it was that serious, I’d hope they’d notify the parents that there’s some major concern,” Erica said.

Shawn said he was told the next day at school that he was in the concussion protocol and would be unable to play in the state championship game.

Peter drove straight to the school when he heard the news. He talked to coaches, the athletics director and the school’s athletic trainer. The trainer explained Shawn was unresponsive and had been knocked unconscious. The parents say they were never given any paperwork to support the school’s assessment and they never observed any symptoms that Shawn had suffered a head injury in the game.

“We’re not rookies,” Peter said. “We know what a concussion is.”

While concussions and the degenerative disease CTE have made headlines and been linked to football greats such as Junior Seau and Frank Gifford, researchers are still trying to understand the risks football might pose to young people.

“The younger we go, the less science there is,” said Harry Kerasidis, a neurologist who authored the recent book Concussionology: Redefining Sports Concussion Management For All Levels, “and we have kind of extrapolated from studies that were done on older individuals.”

Kerasidis explained that there are two schools of thought: (1) a child’s brain is still developing and any trauma can be especially harmful; (2) children are smaller, slower and perhaps unable to deliver as much force in their collisions as older players. While recent research has found CTE widespread in a former player who was 25 years old at the time of his death, researchers are working to understand definitively the long-term effects of head trauma suffered by young players.

“We really don’t yet have the level of science that we need,” said Gerard Gioia, who heads the division of pediatric neuropsychology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington and directs the Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery and Education Program. “We don’t know what the difference is between a 7-year-old brain taking a blow or hit versus a 13-year-old versus a 17-year-old. We really need those studies to be done.”

Nieto’s family was eager to learn Shawn’s condition and made a doctor’s appointment for the following day. Shawn met with a doctor and exhibited normal cognitive ability, orientation, memory recall and concentration, according to the family’s court filing.

Backed by the doctor’s recommendation, the Nietos became even more determined for him to play in the state title game and explored their legal options.

“If something looks bad, it doesn’t mean it’s really that bad, you know,” Peter said. “This just happened at an emotional milestone in our son’s life, so we were going to do whatever we thought we could to get his voice heard, to not lose this opportunity.”

The school district, meanwhile, was just as adamant that Shawn had been injured and state law required he sit out seven days.

“There’s no wiggle room,” said Bruce Carver, the school district’s athletics director. “If somebody thinks it is [a concussion], we go the safe road and keep him out.”

All 50 states, and the District, have passed laws that address concussion safety in youth sports, but the particulars vary. A concussion might be diagnosed differently in South Carolina than Colorado, and the required recovery might be different in California than Pennsylvania. Arkansas allots money for a program but has no standards in place. Wyoming doesn’t require parents to sign a consent form. Only a handful, such as New Mexico, have a mandatory waiting period before a player can return to action.

While New Mexico’s statute was hailed as one of the toughest when it was signed into law in 2010, opinions vary about whether a mandatory waiting period is effective. A 2009 study looked at 635 high school- and college-aged concussed football players and found that the waiting period “did not intrinsically influence clinical recovery or reduce the risk of a repeat concussion in the same sports season.”

“This concussion law is just one size fits all,” Erica said of New Mexico’s statute. “It’s expected to fit every situation, and it really does not allow for how to address a conflict — how do you get an independent evaluation? There’s no wiggle room at all, and I think there needs to be.”

State district Judge Alan Malott scheduled a hearing for Dec. 4, barely 24 hours before the championship game was scheduled to kick off. Neither the school nor the school district showed up in court, and Malott had at his disposal one key piece of evidence: Shawn’s doctor clearing him to play. Malott granted the injunction.

“The fact that the doctor said he was fine and never was hurt was obviously pretty substantial evidence,” Malott said in a phone interview. “The school didn’t even show up, so I didn’t have the benefit of a coaches’ report or anything like that.”

The morning of the title game, though, Karen Ortiz, the physician who examined Shawn, sent a letter to the school district, rescinding her opinion and saying the family was not forthcoming with the extent of Shawn’s injury.

“Had I understood that there was a loss of consciousness, I would have never provided medical clearance,” Ortiz wrote in a letter first published in the Albuquerque Journal.

A spokesperson for Ortiz’s employer, Lovelace Health System, said the doctor could not comment on the case, citing privacy concerns. Neither the Nieto family nor the judge say they have ever seen the letter.

The Cleveland Storm took the field that night, and Shawn was in uniform alongside his teammates. But he’d missed the entire week of practice and coaches didn’t use him in the game. Shawn’s lone appearance was for a brief fourth-quarter kickoff. His Storm team posted a 48-35 win to capture the title and cap a 13-0 season. Shawn’s replacement ran for 200 yards and scored a touchdown.

Shawn said watching his teammates win the state championship without him was bittersweet. Many students at his school didn’t understand why his parents took to the courts, and the school hallways this winter have not always been pleasant. His wrestling season has since started, though, and he hopes to regain his starting running back job next fall as a senior.

The Nietos remain upset with the letter of the law and the school’s application of it. They’re still confident Shawn never suffered a concussion. School officials overreacted, they say, and Shawn suffered because of it. They plan to write a letter to the local school board suggesting ways the rules could be improved.

Carver, the school district’s athletics director, said the school and team officials “could’ve done a better job communicating,” but they still support the spirit of the law.

“We feel like we did what’s best for the kid and trying to protect him,” he said.

Maise, Rick. “School Said Son Suffered a Concussion; Parents Sued to Get Him Back on Field.” The Santa Fe New Mexican. Sante Fe New Mexican, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

How to make your kid hate sports without really trying

(CNN)Christine Carugati, 18, of Langhorne, Pennyslvania started getting recruited to play college lacrosse the summer after the ninth grade. You heard that right — when she just finished her freshman year in high school.

“What ninth grader knows what they want and what ninth grader, never mind an adult, isn’t easily swayed, thinking somebody wants me. It’s very intoxicating for any age but for a child especially, so my counsel was to keep all your options open,” said her mom, Mary Carugati, during an interview.
Christine Carugati started getting recruited for college lacrosse right after ninth grade.

And now it appears the courting process is starting even earlier. Syracuse University made headlines recently with word that an eighth-grade girl had verbally committed to play on its women’s lacrosse team, a move that appears to be the youngest ever commitment to a men’s or women’s college lacrosse team, according to Lacrosse magazine.
Terry Norpel Dzelzgalvis, who coached recreational league lacrosse for 12 years and played lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania, said the trend to younger and younger commitments is a big concern in youth sports today.
“It’s ridiculous, and the parents aren’t putting their feet down,” she said. (Full disclosure: Norpel Dzelzgalvis and I are friends from college.)
Should high school athletes get EKG tests?
Should high school athletes get EKG tests? 04:59
The early recruiting by colleges combined with parents’ unwillingness to stand up and say no to such practices is just one example of how youth sports has changed and for the worse, coaches, players, authors and parents I interviewed for this story say. And, there are plenty of stats to back up how concerning the problem should be for parents who want the best for their kids.
Seventy percent of children leave organized sports by the age 13, according to research by the National Alliance for Sports. Let’s put it this way: If your daughter or son plays on a soccer team, seven out of 10 of the members of that team won’t be playing soccer or any organized sport whatsoever by the time they enter their teenage years.
“Kids are telling us this is not for me. It might be for you, but it’s really not meeting our needs,” said Mark Hyman, author of three highly-regarded books on kids and sports, including “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids.”
Hyman, who is an assistant professor of management at George Washington University, likes to compare the situation to what might happen in the business world with the same kind of fallout. “If 70% of Walmart’s customers walked out of the store and said, ‘This is not for me. I’m not coming back,’ the status quo would not stand. Walmart would figure out a different business model but in youth sports, we seem to be very satisfied with a 70% dropout rate.”
We shouldn’t be satisfied and should be very worried about how many kids are dropping out, said John O’Sullivan, a former college and professional soccer player, who has coached on every level from children to college, and who now devotes his energy to the Changing the Game Project. His organization’s goal is to return youth sports to the children and to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “
“As I say to all the parents at my parents talks, ‘This isn’t a sports issue. This is a wellness issue,’ ” said O’Sullivan, citing how this generation is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and it’s due to inactivity. “We know all the benefits of activity from better grades to less drugs, less pregnancy, more likely to go to college and on and on and on and yet at the same age when most kids are walking away from sports is that critical age where if they’re active then, they’re likely to be active for life.”

Why are kids walking away

One of the main reasons kids are walking away is because of injuries due to overuse, many of the people I interviewed for this story say. Every year, more than 3.5 million children under the age 14 need treatment for sports injuries, with nearly half of all sports injuries for middle and high school students caused by overuse, according to research.
This is something Hyman knows all too well, he says. His son was a star pitcher at age 10 (he was the coach), and Hyman often thinks about the “pretty profound mistake” he made getting swept up in his son’s success.
By the time his son was 16, he had a ruptured ligament in his elbow, which spelled the beginning of the end for him, said Hyman. “Was I too invested in his youth baseball career? Yes. Should he have pitched less? Yes. Should I have said no to some opportunities he had to play on teams during times of the year when he should have been resting? Yes,” he said.
“So, I guess I’m an example of a parent who I think made some mistakes and probably could help parents understand that they shouldn’t be in a hurry, that if their kids really have talent and passion that they are going to be OK whether they’re playing on six travel teams or just the rec league.”
O’Sullivan, who has two young children ages 8 and 10 who play sports, says having a child concentrate on one sport — and one sport only — before their middle teenage years is a big part of the problem. Parents believe they need to give their kid an edge, he said, but the irony is they may be hurting their child’s athletic future more than helping.
“I’d say that overwhelming emotion is one of fear: ‘What if I don’t give my kid this chance? Am I a bad mom? Am I a bad dad? Will my kid fall behind?’ ” said O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.” “The actual science and evidence that we look at though shows that except in sports like female gymnastics where kids hit their peak when they’re 14- (and) 15-years-old, specializing in one sport before the age of 12 is going to be a far less likely path to actually elite level performance.”
Most kids who do specialize early often say, when they are asked about any regrets, that they wish they did other sports, he said.
Research by the U.S. Olympic Committee shows that the vast majority of elite level athletes are multisport athletes until their middle teenage years, he added.
“I just think it helps if you participate in multiple sports,” said Norpel Dzelzgalvis, the former Division I college player and former coach. “I think that if you look at most college rosters, you will see that these student-athletes have excelled in multiple sports, and not just the one for which they were recruited to play in college.”
Carugati credits Norpel Dzelzgalvis, one of her daughter’s lacrosse coaches from the time she started playing in the second grade and up through the eighth grade, as one of the reasons why her daughter continued to play lacrosse, along with soccer and basketball.
“They never made those girls feel like they couldn’t play another sport,” said Carugati, a mom of three and marketing consultant, who volunteered for her daughter’s recreational league lacrosse program.
Said Norpel Dzelzgalvis, “We never wanted to tell kids who were 11 years old, ‘I’m sorry but you have to commit to this as your year-round sport.’ I mean there’s plenty of time for that but kids would come to us and say, ‘Well, our soccer coach said to us we’ll be off the team if we go to our lacrosse game instead of our soccer game.’ “

Coaches and parents need to ‘redefine’ success

More coaches, who are more focused on keeping the game fun and watching players develop skills that help them for life as opposed to winning at all costs, would no doubt help.
But, it isn’t easy to ignore those pressures to win, says Hyman. He remembers how all the parents were pleased when the team was winning and how those victories reflected positively on him as coach. “Looking back, none of those things really matter when your kid is 8- or 9- or 10 years old. They should be the least important things,” he said.
Coaches should be guided by long-term, not short-term, success, said O’Sullivan.
“So, you know what, on a 9-year-old team, on an 11-year-old team, 12-year-old team, every kid should play every game. Anyone who doesn’t say that doesn’t care about kids and doesn’t understand anything about talent development. You can’t know if an 11-year-old is going to make it or not.”
Should you let your child fail?
Should you let your child fail? 01:09
The concept of success in sports also needs to be redefined, says Janis Meredith, a coach’s wife for 29 years and a sports mom for 21 years, who likes to say she has “seen life from both sides of the bench.”
She writes about sports parenting on her blog and is the author of a sports parenting survival guide, including “22 Ways to Let Kids Be Little in Youth Sports.”
“Success doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be the star on the team. It doesn’t mean that you are always going to start,” said Meredith, who tells the story of how her daughter, when she was a senior in high school, thought about quitting the basketball team because she was getting less playing time that she had during her junior year.
Her daughter ended up sticking with the team, and decided that her role on the team was going to be “the encourager.” At the end of the season, at the awards’ dinner, her coach saluted her as the most encouraging player on the team, said Meredith.
“And I thought, OK, my daughter wasn’t the leading scorer, but you know what, that was success, that she stuck with it and that she turned around her attitude, and that she recognized her role. That to me is success,” she added.
Parents are too often “looking at the only kind of success that ends with a scholarship and there are other ways to have success.”
Not to mention that the chances of your child playing college sports is very small. For example, only about 3% of women and men athletes who play high school basketball go on to play in college, according to an analysis by College Sports Scholarships.

The car ride home

I’ve thought quite a bit about how youth sports has changed since I have two girls, ages 8 and 9 1/2, who both play a variety of sports. I recently dropped off one of my daughters at a soccer practice and was surprised at how many parents were staying to watch. I believe one caregiver was recording the entire practice on her iPhone. Was she doing that so the girls’ parents could see how their daughter did that day?
I remembered how when I was a kid and played softball on a church league, no parent, including my own, attended practice and very few attended games. What changed?
The reasons are countless and aren’t just about sports, but about parenting, too. As we helicopter and hover as parents, we are more involved than ever. Involvement is OK, experts say, but when our kids’ sports life becomes more about us and our needs, then we’ve crossed the line.
“I think a lot of times parents tend to gauge their own self-esteem on how well their kids do, like, ‘I’m so and so’s parent. Did you see how well my kid did?’ ” said Janis Meredith, the blogger. “Maybe they’re trying to make up for something that they didn’t do when they were younger or something that they did do, maybe they want their kid to live up to them.”
Our kids get this message from us when we scream on the sidelines — even when they tell us not to — or when we choose to do play- by-play analysis in the car ride home. When O’Sullivan was director of coaching for a number of soccer clubs and he did exit interviews with kids who decided to leave the club, he said one of the saddest things he learned is their least favorite moment in sports was the car ride home after the game, he wrote in a blog post.
Meredith, a mom of three whose children all played sports from age four through college, said her kids never wanted to dissect the game on the drive home.
“I’m a question asker and I tend to ask a lot of questions and so that often got me in trouble because I would say things like, ‘What happened?’ or ‘Why didn’t the coach put you in?’ … and they’re like, ‘ Mom, enough, the questions, stop,’ ” she said. “We learned after a game to let our kids take the lead on the conversation.”
Letting our kids take the lead in conversation — and when it comes to what sports they play and how often — is a crucial way to keep sports fun and interesting for our children, these experts say.
That is certainly not easy as youth sports has become a multibillion dollar industry, with financial benefits for tournament organizers and apparel manufacturers, and even wins for media companies. (ESPN reportedly pays $7.5 million per year for the rights to broadcast the Little League World Series.)
“The line between professional and college and youth sports has really narrowed,” said Hyman, who also is author of “The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families.”
“Youth sports are now an entertainment product just like the colleges and the pros … and on some level, I think parents are influenced by that.”

Advice for parents

So what’s a parent to do?
No, we can’t single-handedly change youth sports as we know it, but if each parent started practicing good, positive, supportive behavior, with the focus on the fun of the game and nothing else, that’s how you create a movement, said O’Sullivan.
“Then, all of a sudden, good behavior on the sidelines by parents is no longer risky. It’s what everyone does. Being quiet on the ride home, it’s what everyone does.”
Carugati says she was influenced by her niece, who is seven years older than her daughter Christine and who played soccer at Villanova. She played three sports, and never wanted to give any of them up, said Carugati.
“I think I took my lead from my niece and I wanted my daughter to keep enjoying sports,” she said. “I saw it every time the season ended my daughter would be looking forward to the next season and the new sport, and with every change of season, there was new excitement. And I really feel like that kept her interested.”
And now her daughter Christine, a senior in high school, is gearing up to play lacrosse in college. She received an athletic scholarship from Boston University.
Parents should keep their eye on the bigger picture, said Carugati. “The goal is a happy, healthy, well-adjusted, self-supporting adult with a career they are passionate about,” she wrote in an email. “When it’s no longer fun, it’s time to find something else.”
What do you think are the biggest issues in youth sports today? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Health on Twitter or Facebook.
Wallace, Kelly. “Why Are so Many Kids Dropping out of Sports?” CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

UL, Ice Gators team up for concussion research

Researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have partnered with the Louisiana Ice Gators to focus on collecting data about concussions in hockey.

According to a release from the university, Dr. Randy Aldret, director for UL Lafayette’s athletic training program and an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology, will lead the a study on concussions and hockey with his wife, an IceGators team physician, Dr. Stephanie Aldret.

The severity of concussions, which the Mayo Clinic defines as a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions, can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms- headaches, nausea, dizziness, light sensitivity, altered sleep patterns, blurred vision, seizures, memory loss, impaired motor skills, trouble concentrating, and personality changes-can vary greatly from person to person and injury to injury.

The study will examine physiology and neurocognitive function in more than 20 IceGators. The players have agreed to be evaluated before, during, and after the season, which began in October and ends in April.

The study will measure a range of factors, including cognition, balance, and sleep patterns, with a battery of established tests, including MRIs. Players also will submit blood samples, since levels of certain proteins in the blood are elevated with a brain injury.

The hope is to add to a growing body of knowledge about head injuries that could assist in prevention, and acute and long-term care for athletes and the general population.

Stephanie Aldret said even for players who don’t suffer a concussion, the research will provide a framework for potential determinations about repeated “micro traumas” experienced by athletes throughout a season.

“We don’t know exactly what the repetitive small traumas cause, what the longer lasting effect is,” she explained.


“UL, Ice Gators Team up for Concussion Research.” – Katc, 20 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.