12-year-old’s heatstroke death prompts football changes

One day after a 12-year-old boy died from a heatstroke he suffered at football practice two weeks ago, Fulton County officials said they’re making changes to local athletic associations, according to Channel 2 Action News.

Johnny Tolbert was doing conditioning drills when he had a heatstroke July 14 in 90-degree weather in South Fulton County. Tolbert died Thursday night and will be buried next week, Channel 2 reported.

“Of course, his mom and dad are both devastated,” Tolbert’s aunt, Rozhange Landers, told the station. “It’s their only child (and) a terrible loss.”

The Fulton Parks and Recreation Department suspended all football practices in the wake of the incident, Channel 2 reported. The county has also ordered that local athletic associations prove its coaches are properly certified, including being trained on heat and hydration protocols and concussion prevention.

The county also said it will implement additional measures, Channel 2 reported.

While the measures could help save another young athlete’s life, Tolbert’s family is still trying to come to grips with his death.

“We’re totally depending on God’s grace and His peace to get us through this,” Landers told Channel 2. “We don’t know any other way.”

The family set up a GoFundMe account to assist with funeral costs. It had raised more than $6,300 as of Friday afternoon.


Habersham, Raisa. “12-year-old’s Heatstroke Death Prompts Football Changes.” AJC.com: Atlanta Georgia News, AJC Sports, Atlanta Weather. AJC, 29 July 2016. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.

Understanding risk and protocols key to concussion management

BALTIMORE — Former Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook doesn’t know where he’d be today without former Philadelphia Eagles athletic trainer Rick Burkholder.

On Oct. 26, 2009, Westbrook suffered his first concussion when he was hit in the back of the head and blacked out during the Eagles’ game against the Washington Redskins. Two days later, he wanted to practice again.

Burkholder stopped him.

“Burkholder said, ‘We’re not going to let you touch that football field until you’re absolutely ready,’” Westbrook said. “It was that decision and those words that changed my life dramatically for the better. It’s what allows me to go out there on the radio and TV and speak to young people today without worrying about head and brain disease.”

Westbrook spoke at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Convention in Baltimore on Thursday, where a panel of athletic trainers gave tips on preventing concussions in youth and high school sports. NATA also unveiled new research and guidelines related to concussions, osteoarthritis and sudden cardiac death.

Among children, those ages 15 to 17 visit the emergency room the most often, while thousands of high school athletes have long-term complications resulting from injuries. Many youth athletes, their parents and coaches don’t understand the risk of severe injuries during competition. Westbrook, for example, didn’t even consider the thought of getting a concussion until he endured his first one.

Tamara McLeod, the director of athletic training programs at A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Health Sciences, said most states have laws that require high schools to educate athletes about concussions, but usually these teachings are basic and don’t grasp the athletes’ full attention.

“Some of them just give a handout,” McLeod said. “The key is education before the injury happens.”

McLeod has studied and advocated for a collaborative approach to care that includes athletic trainers, school nurses, administrators, teachers and coaches when it comes to managing athletes’ care and preparing them to return to play.

According to NATA, only 12 states have a written emergency action plan; 16 states meet “minimum best practices” for heat acclimatization; and only 25 states have access to an “external defibrillator on a school property and at all school sanctioned athletic activities.”

By using video of professional athletes, McLeod said she’s had more success getting her message across, but she believes each age group should be targeted in a different way to emphasize concussion protocol. Heads Up Football, a USA Football education program, is another way to inform coaches and players on concussions, she said.

University of Connecticut kinesiology professor Douglas Casa studied Fairfax County High Schools in Virginia, and found that athletes playing under Heads Up Football certified coaches underwent 25 percent less injuries and 43 percent less concussions.

McLeod said that every school needs to have a policy for athletes who experience concussions, including treatment, how to ease athletes back into competition and when to allow them to play again. Having an athletic trainer helps this plan work, said Kristen Kucera, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

“Athletic trainers specialize in the prevention, recognition, management, treatment and rehabilitation of sport injuries and illness,” Kucera said.

Westbrook said athletes and their parents should be informed about the risk of concussions when they begin playing tackle football. The NFL has reduced the amount of physicality in practice since Westbrook began playing in the league, but he said it’s still difficult to manage injuries while coaches pressure their athletes to return to action.

“So many coaches expect you to be back on the field after two days,” Westbrook said.

The National Trainers’ Association launched a campaign called “At Your Own Risk” to educate, prevent and heal athletic injuries. The website AtYourOwnRisk.org includes an interactive map with the sports safety protocols for all 50 states.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, there 80 catastrophic injuries and illnesses among high school and college athletes, with 78 percent at the high school level, from July 2013 to July 2014.

In 2015, 50 high school athletes died during sports or physical activity and high school athletes lead t the nation in athletic-related deaths.

Westbrook said he was lucky to have an educated athletic trainer when he played for the Eagles, but not all athletes are that fortunate. Some players put themselves at risk of long-term injuries by returning to competition too early, or not informing their coach or athletic trainer about concussion symptoms.

If Westbrook had not waited to recover, he might join myriad other football players who display symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“As athletes, we’re not thinking about injury,” Westbrook said. “We’re thinking about playing. I want [athletic trainers] to say, ‘We’re not trying to keep you off the field, but we want to make sure when you’re on the field, you’re the best player you can be.”


Melnik, Kyle. “Understanding Risk and Protocols Key to Concussion Management.” USA Today High School Sports. USA Today Sports, 23 June 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.

Parents concerned about concussions in youth sports encouraged to attend presentation on June 23 at SJHS

Parents grappling with the issue of children and their participation in contact sports are encouraged to attend a presentation by University of Minnesota professor Dr. Uzma Samadani on Thursday, June 23 at the Stillwater Junior High School Auditorium. The session, which being hosted by the St. Croix Valley Athletic Association Football Commission, is slated to begin at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Samadani and Robert Glatter, M.D., co-authored the book “The Football Decision: An Exploration Into Every Parent’s Decision Whether or Not To Let a Child Play Contact Sports.”

A description of the book says it provides “parents with a comprehensive evidence-based approach for navigating the plethora of data surrounding the risks and benefits of contact sports.”

The issue of concussions and safety in sports is an important one and Stillwater football coach Beau LaBore, who first heard Samadani at a coaching clinic, encourages parents of young athletes to attend.

“We are fortunate to have Dr. Samadani speak to our community,” LaBore said. “Her presentation is research-based and provides important considerations as to why youth can and should play team sports like football. Simultaneously, she outlines how team sports can better serve its participants. If someone’s son or daughter wants to play a contact or team sport and you have some reservations, Dr. Samadani’s presentation is a must see.”

LaBore also mentioned a survey included in the book that showed 83 percent of neurosurgeons and brain injury experts would allow their own children to play contact sports.

“I feel the media has unfairly linked the NFL to youth football (grades 1-12),” LaBore said. “Therefore, after hearing Dr. Samadani speak, I hoped we could share her findings and beliefs with our community. She places the risk of playing contact sports into context based on research and outlines the benefits young people can gain from participation.”


Gazette, Stillwater. “Parents Concerned about Concussions in Youth Sports Encouraged to Attend Presentation on June 23 at SJHS.” Stillwater Gazette. SG.com, 14 June 2016. Web. 16 June 2016.

Youth football coaches take to the field to learn safe practice techniques

Posted: Jun 11, 2016 7:47 PM EDTUpdated: Jun 11, 2016 8:06 PM EDT

WAUNAKEE (WKOW) — Football safety has been under scrutiny as we learn more about the dangers of concussions and other injuries on the field. Experts say it’s important players learn the safe way to play at a young age and a national organization is starting with an older population to reach the young.

Youth football coaches from 30 local organizations got back on the field at Waunakee High School Saturday to learn the fundamentals of Heads Up Football.

USA Football sends trainers like Terry Donovan to communities across the Midwest to get ahead of problems that have put the game in the spotlight, like concussions.

“Each league for USA Football has a designated player safety coach and they’re in charge of seeing that the practices are run correctly, that kids are safe,” Donovan tells 27 News. “If there’s anything injury-wise they’re going to recognize it, if it’s concussion, or anything else, and get that kid out of play, try to make sure that we’re doing the right thing safety-wise going forward.”

Coaches learn how to recognize and respond to possible symptoms of concussion or heat-related injuries. The Heads Up program’s safety protocols were put together with help from health officials. The coaches also learn how to teach proper tackling and blocking the safe way.

Now that these coaches went through the program, they become their league’s designated “player safety coach”, monitoring practices and games throughout the season .

In addition to the on-field training, the coaches also learned the proper way to fit equipment and they talked about heat safety: how to acclimate the players to working out in the heat and ease their way into practicing in full pads.


Kliese, Jen. “Youth Football Coaches Take to the Field to Learn Safe Practice Techniques.” Youth Football Coaches Take to the Field to Learn Safe Practice. WKOW, 11 June 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.

AIG ends insurancy policy against head injuries with NFL

AIG wants the benefits of football without the risks.

The New York insurance giant has stopped insuring NFL players against head injuries as the dangers of concussions became apparent even though it continues to play up its ties to the game, The Post has learned.

“They exclude coverage for head injuries,” said a source familiar with the insurer’s policies.

AIG also stopped insuring the nation’s largest youth football league, Pop Warner, a few years ago as the NFL’s concussion crisis trickled down to the high school level and even younger.

At the same time, AIG, led by Chief Executive Peter Hancock, is a big backer of USA Football, a nonprofit group started by the NFL that seeks to blunt the toll concussion fears have had on youth football.

The insurer is one of the chief sponsors of USA Football’s 2016 Protection Tour for 7- to 14-year-old players. The tour travels across the country teaching kids tackling techniques and proper helmet fit, among other safety issues. The one-day camp comes to MetLife Stadium on Aug. 14.

While USA Football aims to cut down on head-related injuries, it also works to send the message that kids can be taught to play the game safely as more parents balk at the notion.

“My initial thought is that this is very misleading. It’s false advertising,” said Kimberly Archie, a risk management expert who specializes in sports injury litigation. “You are putting your name on something you will not insure.”

AIG declined to comment.

K&K Insurance, part of rival insurance giant Aon, replaced AIG as Pop Warner’s insurer a few years ago.

K&K, which covers every player up to $1 million and, depending on the chapter, up to $2 million, has not carved out an exception for head injuries.

“K&K Insurance is known as a trusted source for commercial liability insurance coverage for amateur sports teams, leagues, associations, tournaments, camps and facilities, and as such, our intent is to continue offering protection, within our participant legal liability coverage, that will respond to claims alleging brain injuries (including concussions) sustained by players in specified sports.

“There is currently a great deal of inconsistency from insurance carrier to carrier on how concussion coverage may be offered or if it is excluded entirely,” it added.

AIG is among the dozens of insurers suing the NFL to avoid paying more than $1 billion in costs for concussion-related lawsuits.

The dispute is tied to the settlement between the NFL and thousands of retired players who said the league hid from them the dangers of repeated head hits. Players stand to receive up to $5 million apiece.

The insurers suing in New York State Supreme Court argue that they should get out of paying because the league covered up the dangers.

“This case is about whether concussions are covered under policies,” said a source close to the case.

While AIG is cutting its exposure to concussion-related lawsuits by carving out head injuries, it still issues NFL policies that cover non-brain-related injuries. The NFL declined to comment.


Kosman, Josh. “AIG Ends Insurance Policy against Head Injuries with NFL.” New York Post. New York Post, 12 June 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.

Buffalo Bills team up with USA Football to host Player Safety Coach Clinic

The Buffalo Bills teamed up with USA Football to host a Player Safety Coach Clinic in support of the Heads Up Football initiative.

For athletes playing at any level, longevity in a sport is contingent upon education and safety. Ensuring that coaches are properly educated on safety protocol, starting at the youth level, will give players the tools that they need to succeed.

On Saturday, June 11, the Buffalo Bills teamed up with USA Football to host a Player Safety Coach Clinic. In support of USA Football’s Heads Up Football initiative, youth football coaches from around Western New York flocked to the ADPRO Sports Training Center to learn safety techniques and best practices from USA Football’s Master Trainers, Robert Currin and Ken Stoldt. The coaches were also given the opportunity to hear from an impressive group of keynote speakers such as, Dr. Jennifer McVige from DENT Neurologic, Buffalo Bills Director of Equipment Operations Jeffrey Mazurek, Buffalo Bills Assistant Equipment Manager Randy Ribbeck, and Buffalo Bills Assistant Defensive Backs coach Ed Reed.

Coming together to increase awareness for player safety, the group studied important fundamentals including equipment fitting, concussion recognition and response, emergency action planning and implementation steps. Addressing the group first was Dr. McVige, who stressed the significance of being able to recognize when a player has been injured. An expert in her field, McVige elaborated that understanding the signs and symptoms of player injuries, will help coaches and parents to make the right decisions for treatment.

Another critical component of player safety is equipment fitting. Both Jeff Mazurek and Randy Ribbeck have years of experience in making sure that each Bills player is fully secure on gameday with the proper protective gear. In terms of equipment, Mazurek explained, the number one priority is a correct fit.

“Make sure everything fits right…that is the biggest thing,” said Mazurek.

Following an equipment fitting demonstration, Ed Reed spoke to the coaches about taking an active role in player development and safety. As a former NFL player, a parent and now a coach, Reed was able to bring a unique perspective to the conversation.

“It’s truly about being educated,” said Reed. “You have to educate these kids as much as possible leading up the NFL, leading up to college, (and) high school. We need to protect them in general, give them the proper tools and techniques…”

Striving to make an impact, USA Football is confident that the Heads Up Football program will continue to generate awareness, facilitate understanding and lead to higher rates of adoption.

“Football, it’s just about being smarter on the football field,” said Regional Manager at USA Football Aaron Hill. “The youth organizations in Western New York are among some of the best in the country when it comes to adoption of the Heads Up Football program. So it’s about taking care of our kids on the football field, educating our parents, educating our coaches and just creating awareness about what we’re (USA Football) doing with the football program.”

Baker, Kelly. “Buffalo Bills Team up with USA Football to Host Player Safety Coach Clinic .” LatestHeadlines RSS. N.p., 12 June 2016. Web. 14 June 2016.

Teaching concussion prevention in youth football

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. –USA Football is hoping to cut the number of injuries with young players across the nation through a program on safety. The Adirondack Football League went through a session Saturday in Plattsburgh.

Eric Lucia is the Adirondack Football League’s Player Safety Coach. He says there’s a stigma about the sport causing concussions that he hopes will change thanks to a training program called Heads Up football.

“Coaching over the years thankfully I’ve never had any of my kids that I coached, but when I was assistant coach, we had a couple of kids get concussions, but we were able to identify it right away through this training, and the kids were sat out until they were cleared by doctors,” said Lucia.

On Saturday, Lucia joined many of the league’s coaches in Plattsburgh for the session put on by USA Football. The program has been around for less than a decade, but officials say 70 percent of all U.S. leagues have now signed up.

“They understand there’s a big spotlight on football because of concussions, but they’re up for the challenge as far as combating all of that, and making the best that they possibly can, and educating people to make it safer,” said Matt Gallagher, Master Trainer for Heads Up USA Football Program.

Gallagher taught the group everything from proper equipment sizing to treating heat stroke in players.

“And then of course the actual blocking and the tackling. The techniques to keep the head out of the game. That’s the key, making sure they’re doing all this blocking and tackling without using their head,” said Gallagher.

The Adirondack Football League works with players from as early as kindergarten – in flag football – up to 6th grade in tackle football. Their coaches began attending the heads up training programs 4 years ago and say it’s crucial for all teams to learn.

“These kids are so young that concussions over time can lead to other issues as they grow older, so we really want to keep an eye on them. They’re still growing. Concussions come pretty easy to them. We wanna make sure they play healthy,” said Randy Major, Adirondack Football League President.

According to one study posted in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, young football players in leagues that signed up for the course during the 2014 season had a 76 percent reduction in injuries compared to leagues that were not signed up. Lucia says he’ll be taking all the info he learned with back to the field.

“Take it back to the players and the coaches on the football field when our practice starts in August. We’ll just have a meeting with the coach before, share some information, and we’ll all teach it with the kids and practice,” said Lucia.

Teaching coaches about safety to keep the games fun and the kids safe.

Spillman, Rose. “Teaching Concussion Prevention in Youth Football.” – WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-. WCAX, 11 June 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.


Coaches get a “Heads Up” in Football

LUMBERTON — The game of football has come under tremendous scrutiny in recent years as a number of professional football players reported long-term injuries and brain trauma.

In the past four years, the Public Schools of Robeson County added certified athletic trainers to diagnose student injury and support players. This May, coaches across the school district took safety to the next level by participating in USA Football’s “Heads Up Football Program.” Fifty coaches from county high schools recently spent a full day studying and practicing in the program. It trained them in important health and safety issues along with the game’s fundamentals. The coaches also participated in four online courses as an additional component of the program.

Assistant Coach Thomas Umphrey participated in the training program and is already teaching the new techniques in spring workouts to players at Purnell Swett High School. Umphrey has worked in the school district for 30 years.

“Football has changed so much over the years since I started coaching,” Umphrey said. “Back in the early 80s and late 70s, a lot of the tackling techniques put the players facemask on the numbers of the front of the jersey. Now, players should move their facemask and helmet to the side when tackling a player. This should reduce injury or impact or force to the head.”

Umphrey said the training covered the various aspects of concussion awareness, fundamentals and fitting of helmets and equipment, heat stroke and also the proper techniques of tackling and blocking.

“They are teaching us how to recognize concussion symptoms and to make sure the equipment is properly fitted to reduce injuries. The course is all about teaching both players and coaches the proper safety of football,” he said.

The USA Football’s Heads Up Football program focuses on eight key areas including certification:

— Equipment fitting, particularly the proper fitting of the helmets and shoulder pads.

— Concussion recognition and response and employing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols.

— Heat preparedness and hydration.

— Plans and procedures in place in case of sudden cardiac arrest.

— Heads-Up tackling which teaches the fundamentals in a safer way. USA Football has added a more advanced progression for high school varsity players.

— Heads-Up blocking which teaches the fundamentals of contact for offensive players without the ball.

— Establishing a player safety coach who is appointed by the school district and will ensure compliance with the Heads Up football safety protocols and coach certification. The appointee will also continue educating coaches, players and parents on safety protocols.

PSRC Athletic Director Jeff Fipps says the program aligns with the district’s goal to reduce the number of head injuries on the field.

“This program gives our staff the new standards to support our students in the effort to take the use of the athlete’s head out of football in terms of blocking and tackling,’ Fipps said. “Our coaches studied these new techniques as well as trained on the field themselves. I am excited that all of our programs will utilize the Heads Up football program to hopefully improve the safety of the game.”

Fipps says the goal for the coming school year is to implement Heads-Up certification at all middle schools in addition to the high schools.

PSRC participated in the Heads Up program through a grant from the Carolina Panthers in conjunction with the N.C. High School Athletic Association.


Robesonian, The. “- Robesonian – Robesonian.com.” Robesonian. Robesonian, 27 May 2016. Web. 03 June 2016.

UF study: Playing with concussion backfires

A new University of Florida study says trying to play through concussion symptoms backfires for college athletes.

A team of UF Health researchers looked at concussion data on UF athletes from 2008-2015 and found that athletes who delayed reporting a concussion to “play through it” missed an average of five to seven more days away from their sport in order to recover than athletes who reported symptoms right away.

“The immediate thought for the athlete might be let’s get through this game because it’s the most important thing, but in the long-term, you miss more time,” said Breton Asken, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in Clinical and Health Psychology.

In a UF press release, Asken said earlier studies showed that continuing intense physical activity immediately after a concussion leads to more negative health issues and that may lead to the longer time away from the sport for those athletes.

The UF report is part of a national wave of research into sports-related concussions amid increased attention to protecting against brain injuries in sports, particularly football, from the youth level to the professional ranks. At UF, sensors installed in the helmets of a few dozen football players and a computer software system are part of an ongoing test started in 2014 to measure the force, length and location of hits to the head and improve understanding of how to prevent, diagnose and treat concussions.

The study on delayed reporting of concussions was published in the May issue of the journal of Athletic Training. In addition to researchers with the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Dr. James Clugston, a UF team doctor and assistant professor of community health and family medicine, a researcher with the Medical College of Wisconsin were study authors.

Because researchers reviewed database information to conduct the study, Asken said they could not pinpoint how many athletes intentionally delayed reporting concussion symptoms like impaired vision, memory, balance and cognitive performance and how many either thought the symptoms were not serious enough to report or did not recognize the symptoms as concussion-related.

He said the delays in reporting a concussion could stretch to the end of a practice, the end of a quarter, the end of the game or even as long as a few days.

The study looked at concussion data for 97 UF athletes who sustained concussions from spring 2008 to spring 2015. They included 67 football players; seven women’s lacrosse players; six men’s basketball players; five women’s soccer players; four women’s basketball players; three women’s volleyball players; two men’s swimming and diving team members, and one athlete each from women’s track and field, women’s gymnastics and women’s swimming and diving.

The concussions reported by year were: nine in 2008; 7 in 2009; 19 in 2010; seven in 2011; 15 in 2012; 14 in 2013; 18 in 2014 and eight in 2015.

Asken said athletes who reported concussion symptoms immediately spent an average of seven to eight days in recovery time away from their sport. Those who delayed reporting symptoms missed an average of 12 to 14 days recovering.

“I think many athletes naively believe that concussion symptoms will go away, or if they report a concussion, it will keep them out of play for a lot longer,” Russell Bauer, a professor in the UF department of clinical and health psychology and the senior author of the study, said in a UF release. “These data show that if you do have signs of concussion and you wait to report it, you may actually have a longer road back to the playing field.”

While the study focused on college athletes at UF, Asken said diagnosis and management of concussions are a concern at every level of sports, from youth through the professional ranks. He said one takeaway from the study was the need for certified athletic trainers in the youth and high school sports ranks so athletes have someone with medical training to whom they can report concussion symptoms.

Curry, Christopher. “UF Study: Playing with Concussion Backfires.” Ocala.com. Ocala, 22 May 2016. Web. 07 June 2016.

Intense ‘atmosphere,’ concussion concerns take toll on select football

Kids playing up to 24 games a year

Teams not required to have trainers

Concerns about lack of knowledge among coaches, parents

Henry, John. “Intense ‘atmosphere,’ Concussion Concerns Take Toll on Select Football.” Star-telegram. Star-Telegram, 20 May 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.