When the Knights football players strap on their helmets and take the field, they aren’t just concerned about big-hit concussions, but also about repetitive sub-concussive blows that can cause long-term effects on the brain.
The big hits and resulting concussions can trigger brain disease, but repetitive small hits to the head can have the same effect.
“I think what we’re realizing now is the role that a sub-concussive blow can play in these long-term effects,” SHHS athletic trainer Joshua Pendleton said.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma and concussions, has symptoms including headaches, difficulty focusing, and depression. As the disease progresses, symptoms can become more serious and include aggression, suicidality and dementia.
CTE was originally thought to develop in brains of athletes who have played long professional careers, but researchers at Boston University have found CTE in the brain of an 18-year-old high school football player.
SHHS football coaches are teaching their players safer tackling techniques to avoid tackling in a way that dangers the athlete’s head, which can lead to brain injury.
“Hit with your shoulder, not head,” linebacker Henry Sutro ’20 said. “Wrap with your arms. Keep your head up, not down. That’s what our coaches teach us.”
Not all hits to the head are avoidable in football. It is a contact sport. Concussions happen.
Suspected concussed athletes should not continue to play in games and practices, and they need to be diagnosed, according to the California Interscholastic Federation.
Because symptoms can be inconsistent among concussed players, diagnosis can be difficult. SHHS uses a University of California San Francisco-run testing program to aid in getting more accurate diagnoses.
All Knights football players take the computerized test, which assesses their cognitive ability and reaction time, at the start of the season to establish a baseline.
“If you do happen to suffer a concussion or we suspect you of one, we can have you take the test again, and the doctor can interpret the results,” Joshua Pendleton, who facilitated the test, said.
For students who do suffer concussions, school work can interfere with recovery. The brain needs rest after a concussion, and doing homework on laptops, iPads and other electronic devices can set off symptoms.
Faculty and administration recognize the importance of the healing of concussed athletes.
“They let me skip school for a week, and I had as much time to do my homework as I needed,” said defensive end Sam Cormier ’18, who suffered a concussion during last year’s football season.
The danger of the effects from brain trauma and concussions is significant, and Stuart Hall High School is treating it that way.
“We’re making safety a huge priority. We’re taking it super seriously, and we are making it of utmost importance,” Athletic Director Charlie Johnson said.