November - Hendrickson High School

Posted by Kyndall Jirasek on 11/30/2015

The Most Dangerous Game

National concussion awareness impacts local athletic policies

Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted with permission. It originally appeared in the November edition of the Hawk newspaper at Hendrickson High School. This story was named one of the top ten sports stories in the nation according to the National Scholastic Press Association.


By Kylie Ruffino

Hawk Newspaper co-editor


Three consecutive hits: one from the opposing player, one from the line backer, and one against the ground.  All to the head. In unbearable pain and unable to walk in a straight line, he makes his way to the sidelines.

The athletic trainer on site asks routine questions. “What is your name?”

He hesitates, “Dominic Distefano.”

“When is your birthday?”

He hesitates again and his condition becomes clear to the trainers. He has a concussion.

But, Distefano’s injury is not unusual. He was only one of the estimated 136,000 to 300,000 student athletes who received a concussion last year. He was hospitalized and tested for weeks following the incident until he was cleared to play.

“I was in excruciating pain when my mom and uncle took me to the Emergency Room and I had to keep all the lights off,” Distefano said. “I still don’t really remember everything that happened. It all feels like a haze or a dream and everything was flying by. It didn’t look like what I’m seeing now.”

In recent years, new technology has been developed to allow doctors to more accurately track injuries and how they affect the brain. The new evidence has shown that the brain undergoes dangerous and damaging traumas throughout the football season.

This new information has prompted athletic organizations nationwide to reconsider safety equipment and precautions.

“The safety of the game has definitely improved from how the equipment is developed to the protocols set in place,” Athletic Director and Varsity Football Coach Chip Killian said. “Within the last ten years we’ve stopped seeing and using head to head contact in tackles; we just don’t practice or play like that anymore and we shouldn’t.”

Although, the danger in the game has been lessened, injuries are still prevalent. Safety protocols set in place ensure that players won’t risk further injury by playing before they’re ready and healthy. Athletic trainers track the injury, after a doctor releases the player from symptoms; they start a state mandated five-day concussion protocol. Five days of testing. Five days of waiting. Five days of being in the clear.

“High school athletes have died as a result of receiving a second concussion because they were sent back into the game without proper treatment; concussions are serious and they should be treated as so,” sophomore Kyle Fontenette said. “Your life should not be put at risk while playing the game.”

Other precautions set in place even limit the amount of contact athletes can have during practice. That, however, doesn’t stop the amount of contact during a game. Athletic Trainer Trina Aultman keeps continuous records of all injuries the football players undergo. After several take home packets full of information, sign off sheets, doctor’s appointments, and flow charts, the parents are the final check off. If they do not feel comfortable with their child playing then the athlete won’t.

“I don’t think there is reason to be concerned [about football] more than any other sport, football is always the center of attention because of the violence the sport has, but if you look at it, most of the injuries come from the players hitting the ground opposed to head to head contact,” Killian said. “There is little to no light shined the dangers of other sports like soccer or baseball; these sports could just as easily have similar results.”

Last year, Aultman confirmed 14 concussions out of 270 players during the season and Soccer Coach William Anderson estimates two concussions during soccer with a running average of three per season. Statistically speaking, if the soccer team had the same number of players they would have had 9 concussions last season. Even though the difference in numbers is relatively small, this didn’t stop special education teacher and parent Clarissa Distefano from worrying about her son, junior Dominic Distefano when he received a concussion last season during football.

“You know that injuries are a part of the game but until it happens to you and your family, it makes everything very real,” Distefano said. “It’s all very scary, especially for an injury you couldn’t see, your only guide is by the way he says he feels.”

Along side Distefano, Anderson’s own son experienced severe concussion when he and an opposing player collided heads in an attempt to head the ball at a district soccer game.   Anderson didn’t see the hit due to his location during  the game, but after watching the film he said it was bad. His son missed school for two weeks and was restricted to limited work the week prior to his return.

“A concussion is a concussion no matter what sport you play; it’s a medical event where the brain is impacting the skull,” Anderson said. “Parents only see the big screaming headlines and worst case scenario. They don’t see all of the care and planning coaches go through to try to prevent as many as injuries as possible in any sport.”