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Donald Leonard/MEDILL

A Loyola Academy safety tackles a player at Glenbard North High School. A Linconshire legislator is proposing a bill to limit practices to reduce the incidence of concussions in high school players.


Lincolnshire legislator proposes bill to reduce concussions in high school players

by Donald Leonard
Feb 26, 2013


HEADHIT 1

Courtesy of the Illinois General Assembly

“Practice the way you play” is a phrase football coaches have been engraving into player's minds as soon as they step on the field. But that notion isn’t sitting well with  Illinois State Rep. Carol Sente

Illinois State Rep. Carol Sente of Lincolnshire is proposing tackling the problem of concussions through legislation reduce high school football practice.

She told a Vernon Hills town meeting Monday she believes reducing the practices will help in reducing concussions in high school football players. However, skeptics aren’t convinced that limited full-contact practices to one day would be effective.

Dawn Palmer, Niles West High School athletic trainer in Skokie, said in an interview she believes limiting the practices to one day a week could actually result in more concussions.

“I don’t think that solves everything,” she said. “Obviously the less full-contact practices, the less likely you are to get injured. But if you don’t have the opportunity to practice more on how to tackle properly, it’s kind of defeating the purpose.”

Palmer said proper tackling is one of the key components to reduce concussions.

Proper tackling requires an athlete to hit the opposing player ideally around the waist or upper thighs where the tackler has an opportunity to wrap his or her arms around the player as well as avoiding penalties for tackling or hitting too high.

Players do have helmets to protect them if they’re hit in the head, but the helmet’s main purpose is to prevent skull fractures, not concussions, Palmer said.

“Should we maybe cut down a little bit on practice? Sure, but is one day too extreme? I think so,” Palmer said.

Sente’s concern is that players are taking too many hits to the head and even if it doesn’t result in concussions, it could cause brain damage. She has attributed her concerns to conversations she had with Northbrook neurologist Dr. Larry Robbins.

Robbins wrote an opinion piece in December entitled “Let's Ban Tackle Football Under Age 18” in the website Real Clear Sports.

“A child who plays football from age 7-18 will typically sustain thousands of hits to the head during games and practices over the years. These can add up over time even without obvious symptoms, causing permanent brain injury,” he stated.

Palmer said she thinks football is receiving a little more attention than it deserves.

“Football gets a bad rap because it’s more in the public eye,” Palmer said. “Concussions occur in every sport.”

She added if you look at statistics, sports like cheerleading have almost more concussions than football. She also said volleyball and soccer are common sports for concussions.

Lorenzo Patrick, former football player at Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park, agreed that reducing full-contact practices would result in less injury but not concussions.

Patrick said he doesn’t believe cutting down full-contact practices will have any impact on concussions.

“I understand trying to reduce the number of chances for concussions, but it won't do much considering the nature of the game,” he said. “Limiting hits won't stop your brain from rattling around in your skull every time you actually do get hit.”

Concussions are inevitable in the sport, he said.

Reducing concussions in football will be an endless debate. Research has shown the sport is dangerous, but it’s still one of the most popular sports.

According to Palmer, the negative attention hasn’t reduced the number of students interested in playing at Niles West.

And she doesn’t believe it should.

“If you’re educated on how to tackle properly in football, I don’t feel like it should be banned,” she said.

Sente has expressed no desire to ban the sport, but she’s feels that the numbers of full-contact practices are too many. High school players typically practice four to five days per week.

Sente initially proposed limiting them to only one day a week, but she reduced that number.