Duffy Daugherty, former coach at Michigan State, once said, "Football isn't a contact sport, it's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport."
Daugherty is right.
In any given season, 20 percent of high school football players suffer some type of brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association in Alexandria, Va.
Football is responsible for 250,000 brain injuries in the United States.
When a football player takes the field there is always the chance of a head injury. Players are taught the proper way to tackle, the instructions stressing keeping the head up at the moment of contact.
But, the injuries keep occurring.
Local coaches have reported a total of 11 concussions this season.
Dalton lineman Cam Mayo missed two games. Murray County quarterback Michael Hulett has missed almost two complete games, and still hasn't been cleared to play this week.
At Northwest Whitfield, lineman Caleb Griffin says a concussion was part of a bigger problem of "stingers."
In the Sept. 13 Murray County game, Griffin's playing career stopped.
Griffin, a senior, blocked an Indians player, whose shoulder pad bumped his face, turning his head sharply to the side.
"All of a sudden I couldn't feel anything, and I just fell," Griffin said. "I was on the field for about 15 minutes before they carted me off. I had a CATscan and MRI and for the next three days I just worked on walking and getting back my feeling."
Doctors discovered Griffin had congenital stenosis, a narrowing, or constriction of his spinal cord.
"It was scary," Griffin said. "The doctors kept touching my leg and asking, 'Can you feel it?' I could, but my leg was like a wet noodle."
Griffin's stingers first occurred last season, but he kept them, and the sudden numbness, to himself. They happened every day in practice, in every game. When the 2001 season concluded, the numbness stopped.
On the final day of practice before the Bruins' first preseason scrimmage this year, a teammate's knee struck Griffin in the head causing a concussion.
Then, the heartstopping injury in Chatsworth.
"I still haven't been cleared to lift weights or do physical activity," Griffin said. "My reflexes aren't 100 percent, and my feeling still isn't 100 percent in certain areas."
Southeast coach Chip Kell, who played at all three levels - high school, college and professional - during his illustrious career, was surprised to hear of so many concussions among local player.
"That does sound like a lot," he said.
Kell, an All-American at Tennessee, said he probably still holds the school record with "seven busted helmets" in his Vol career.
"Once, my helmet actually 'dished' in at the side," Kell recalled. "The other six cracked around the bolts holding the facemask on the helmet. I've seen that this year with one of my guys. We discarded that helmet."
The helmet is the last line of defense for concussions, which can cause headaches, nausea, insomnia, memory loss and drowsiness.
Concussions are classified as either grade 1, 2 or 3, with 3 being the most serious. Recovery time can vary from 15 minutes to indefinitely.
Mayo suffered his first concussion against Paulding County, sat out practice the following week and "dinged" himself a second time against Murray County, according to his father, Bill.
Cam Mayo did not play against Ridgeland, but returned against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, armed with a new Riddell "Revolution" helmet.
Mark Swanson, who works at Riddell, told The Associated Press the new helmet has the same components as a regular helmet, but a few modifications have made it better.
Designed to prevent first-time concussions, the Revolution is wider, putting more space between the helmet's shell and the player's head.
The shell has been lengthened to cover the jaw line to better protect from blows from the side. The cage has also been redesigned for better peripheral vision. The quicker the player sees the hit coming, the better prepared he'll be for it.
"As we replace helmets, we're going to be getting the Revolution," Dalton coach Ronnie McClurg said.
Cam Mayo remembers before but practically nothing after the hit that caused his injury.
"I felt like I was dreaming," he said. "I didn't have the answers to simple simple questions from the trainer.
The following week, Mayo "popped the quarterback pretty good," he recalled.
"My eyes crossed," he said, "and I didn't know what was going on. I played the next play and went back out on offense. During a timeout, we went to the sidelines and coach (Chad) Jordan knew something was wrong. They took me out of the game.
"It was very scary the first time. The second time was weird."
Hulett had a similar experience.
"They said I blacked out," Hulett said. "I had loss of memory. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know my birthday. I had a real bad headache."
Doctors have told Hulett, a senior, that if his headaches persist he could miss the remainder of the season.
"I still have dizziness," he said.
The day after his injury, Hulett's memory began coming back.
Hulett and teammate James Knight, who also missed last week's game due to a concussion, are in line for one of the new Revolution helmets.
"I'm feeling better," Hulett said, "but at school I can't read for a long time because my head starts hurting real bad."
Another aspect of concussions and their cause is related to mouthpieces players wear. In some cases, players have cut down their mouthpieces for better breathing, but that can decrease the protection to the jaw area, thus increasing the risk of concussion on a hit to the side of the head.
"A lot of these kids are bigger, stronger and faster," McClurg said, "and maybe the equipment makers haven't keept up with them."
In the case of Southeast Whitfield's Chris McDonald, his concussion was due in part to air leaking out of the helmet "bladder," an air pocket inside the headgear.
"We pumped up the bladder and it kept leaking," Kell said. "We gave him another helmet."

©Daily Citizen 2002

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