Saving Lives on the Sidelines

Friday night lights, salty snacks, soda and students filled with school pride – these are the hallmarks of a high school football game. On the sidelines, however, paramedics stand with their equipment. While fans may only think about an injury in the moment it happens, the lasting effects can be worrisome.

“I think that there obviously needs to be changes throughout the rules from time to time with injuries occuring every so often,” football captain and junior Trent Patrick said. “I do think that schools should look at more proactive ways to finding better ways for students to be protected.”

Just six years ago, 163,670 middle school or high school players were in the emergency room for concussions according to the At Your Own Risk program.

“I think that some of the rules have been changing already and in order for students to maintain that level of safety, I think some of the rules do need to change,” Patrick said. “For instance as we had this week with the early dismissal, I think that needs to be addressed whether to let players on the fields whenever it’s so hot and humid.”

In 2017, the National Federation of State High School Association’s new rule to ban blindside blocks made national news and the guidelines are updated every year.

“I think that our coaches prepare us enough to teach us the right way to do things on and off the field and I feel safe in the equipment we’ve been issued throughout the season,” he said.

With the presence of Athletic Trainers, students are staying even safer.

“The safety protocols for all the sports are pretty standardized now,” Athletic Trainer Miss Barbara Marschik said. “We’re luckily in a day and age where we’re not making it up as we go. The school district is really good at providing those safety policies and we kind of fill in the blanks on the medical side.”

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Senior Tyler Williams stands at football game photo by Autumn B.

While it’s exciting to get new equipment, Miss Marschik feels GS is prepared to handle any issue with what it has now.

“I think the way that the coaches and the administration and us all work together is what makes us such a great team and what makes emergencies go as smoothly as possible when things do happen,” Marschik said.

According to the Huffington Post, schools with Athletic Trainers have lower recurrent injury rates and report more concussions, giving students the care they need and not letting issues go undiagnosed. Marschik treats everything from cuts and bruises to broken bones and rehabilitation.

“You just never know what’s going to come your way so you have to be ready,” she said. “Sometimes we even get to go observe their surgeries so we see them in the moment, but typically once they come back to school or they’re able to ambulate and move again, that’s when we start working with them again. They come see us instead of going to practice and we do rehab and just try to make small improvements every day.”

Not only do the trainers work reactively with students, but they also help them to prepare in order to avoid getting the injury in the first place.

“We really work with the teams a lot in the off season for strength training and hopefully, protect them and their bodies and their awareness of their bodies moving in space before they even hit the field so that they’re stronger and more aware,” Marschik said. “Hopefully we eliminate some of that injury beforehand.”

The responsibility falls on everyone to keep the players safe and Assistant Football coach Mr. Matthew Boe feels the same way.

“Safety, from my perspective, has always been a priority,” Mr. Boe said. “We would have had to be doing something really, really wrong to see a significant change [in rules].”

However, research shows that 90 percent of student athletes sustain some degree of injury while playing their respective sport according to At Your Own Risk.

“It’s a sport that’s physical,” Boe said. “It’s demanding and there is a likelihood of some form of injury. Despite all measures, the likelihood of getting hurt is high.”

Sometimes, coaches and players can do everything possible, but Mother Nature has a different plan.

“For football for example, we have to do a week of heat acclimation,” Boe explained. “That’s essentially in response to several student athletes across the country over the years who [experienced] a shock to the system. And due to that shock, have experienced cardiac arrest or heat stroke or things of that nature.”

At Your Own Risk reported that over 300 young players suffered athletic-related deaths between 2008 and 2015. GS coaches recounted serious injuries they’ve heard of or seen happen.

“There’s a kid from Laurel, I believe, that is kind of a headline in the news due to a spinal injury, a significant spinal injury,” he said. “I think it’s those types of stories that often draw the attention. They don’t see how Tyler Williams [for example] has been predominantly healthy the entire time. You hear about the kid that gets hurt.”

GS Boys’ Assistant Varsity Basketball coach Mr. Andrew LoNigro remembered a particularly stressful time on the court when a student had a seizure during the game.

“It was one of the most real experiences I think, and everyone was concerned,” Mr. LoNigro said. “That prompted some changes on our end as far as the coaching staff went. We constantly questioned if players are okay, how they’re feeling, what medications they were taking and things like that. And the parents gave us some signs we need to look for too,”

He has seen the requirements to coach change throughout the years to ensure player safety as well.

“[There are] certain clearances that every coach must have every year and safety tests that coaches now need to take every year as far as player safety and things like that go,” LoNigro explained.

Like football, basketball presents its own set of safety precautions.

“Players don’t wear any head protection in basketball, so I’ve seen multiple players hit the court head first,” he said. “You have rolled ankles [too], nowadays kids are wearing more low top shoes where in the past with the high tops it would really protect your ankle.”

Safety is also the students’ responsibility. 54 percent of students athletes kept playing despite an injury in order to support their team according to At Your Own Risk.

“If the referee blows the whistle for a player being injured, we take them off the court,” he said. “They have to be evaluated by one of our trainers. Now, where it becomes kind of a judgement call for the coach is if you see a player hit the ground head-first or head to head contact; as a coach we’ve been trained, and now we have to look for signs of concussions.”

Nevertheless, high school sports not only promote team spirit, but learning outside of a classroom.

“I think there’s tremendous value in sports, things such as learning to get through adversity and revealing character when the chips are down and when things aren’t going your way,” LoNigro said. “I played them the whole way through [high school] and that’s why I coach now, to teach those lessons.”


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