WESTCHESTER, N.Y. -- A recently-published book, "League of Denial," and a subsequent PBS "Frontline" documentary about the National Football League and its epidemic of concussions over the decades, have prompted new concerns about the safety of the game even at the youth football and scholastic levels.
The Valhalla Junior Vikings, White Plains Tigers youth football clubs and other Westchester recreation football organizations have specific guidelines in place to deal with concussions, which occur when the brain moves back and forth or is twisted inside the skull.
"Additionally, we participate in a program sponsored by an organization called USA Football," said Vikings board member and White Plains Tigers coach Michael McGuinn said. "The program is 'Heads Up Football,' which teaches specific tackling drills that take the head out of tackling."
Westchester Youth Football League President Mike DiSanto detailed the 14-team league's safety programs that require teams to have trained personnel who are expert in recognizing concussion injuries. The WYFL is also part of the "Heads Up Football" program that trains coaches, parents and players in safety and injury prevention.
DiSanto said there is a four-step game plan:
Step 1 - Heads Up Football requires one member in the WYFBL to be the League Safety Coach who will attend training clinics. Step 2 - Each town is required to have one Town Safety Coach who will also attend a training clinic. Step 3 - The trained Town Safety Coach will train all his coaches, parents and players. (One important item is that these coaches are trained in recognizing concussions) Step 4- The Town Safety Coach will communicate, monitor and report back to the League Safety Coach who will report back to USA Football any issues involving training techniques and injuries.
New York State Public Schools established a new set of guidelines to deal with prevention and appropriate policies in attending concussions last summer. The report said that in 2009, approximately 50,500 young people under the age of 19 were treated for traumatic head injuries, with 3,000 hospitalized.
According to Northern Westchester Hospital pediatrician Dr. Elliot Barsh, the damage NFL players suffered most likely began much earlier when they were youngsters playing in youth and school sports programs.
"We take a conservative active approach and advise that young people not play (full contact football) until the age of 14 when they have developed more and can better handle the impact," Barsh said.
Barsh, who joined NWH colleague Dr. Louis Corsaro in a discussion of the new state guidelines last fall, said no helmet or other equipment can prevent a concussion, but suggests that most of the repetitive hits to the head occur in week-long practices and not just on game day. The doctor believes that limiting practices to less contact would help prevent frequent concussions.
Confusion, nausea, headache and loss of consciousness are some of the immediate symptoms of concussions, but they can also have longer lasting effects. Severe impacts to the head can lead to bleeding or permanent nerve damage. Recent research has shown that repeated hits to the head can lead to a brain disease known aschronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
"Another coach told me a story that really stuck with me," McGuinn said. "He said that if a player continues to tackle with his head, you must not let him in the game. He went on to say that he would rather have that child looking up at him angrily from the bench as opposed to have him looking up at him from a wheelchair. This story has given me motivation to teach keeping the head out of football."
About 914 Sports Blog: 914 Sports is a blog for the Daily Voice sites in Westchester County. We will be taking the sports pulse on a week-to-week basis to bring readers some of the more interesting storylines in Westchester amateur, high school and youth sports. If you have a story you want to see covered, email Danny LoPriore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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