SPRINGFIELD, Mo — “This game is a great game, and it can offer so many things to so many people, but no sport is ever worth the risk of having long-term issues, especially when you are talking about long term issues like concussions,” said Kurt Warner.
The American Academy of Neurology reported in April this year, that 40% of retired NFL players showed signs of having a traumatic brain injury. Even Super Bowl MVP, Kurt Warner, has reservations about the game he loves.
“It’s a tough thing, because we know it’s a tough sport, and we know that injuries are going to occur, but I do like the moves that are being made from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL.”
Bill Voorhis is one of many high school coaches in the Ozarks leading the charge. He’s the head football coach at Fair Grove High School.
“Everyone is kind of hyper-aware right now, and when you err, you have to err on the side of caution,” said Bill Voorhis. “It’s a pendulum. It’s swings from one side to the other. The reality is that it’s probably somewhere in the middle.”
An estimated 300,000 sports related brain injuries occur in the United States every year according to the Journal of Athletic Training. At that rate, sports come in as the 2nd leading cause of brain injuries to young adults, right behind motor vehicle accidents.
“Most of these kids are only going to play 4 years of football. You don’t want to cost a kid weeks of a season that he will never get back,” said Voorhis.
“Those seasons go so fast,” said Rich Rehagen.
Rich Rehagen is the head football coach in Nixa.
“I’ve seen players get hurt and they will miss half a year. They put in a lot of work for those seasons, and you hate to see it taken away when an injury does happen,” said Rehagen.
In the 2014-15 school year, the Missouri State High School Activities Associated reported over 2,800 head injuries, costing students to miss over 34,000 days of competition and over 3,500 days of missed classes.
Football, ranks at the top of that list, representing over 46%. Since 2011 in the Show-Me State, football caused between 1,300 and 1,500 head injuries every year.
“Anyone that has signs and symptoms means that you have to keep them out for 24 hours and have them evaluated by a doctor or a physician,” said Harvey Richards.
Harvey Richards is the Associate Executive Director for the Missouri State High School Athletics Association.
“I would say that we are at the forefront of a lot of states. We rank in probably the top 10 of 50 states with everything that you should have in place,” said Richards.
In 2011, MSHSAA was a big part of helping pass Missouri House Bill 300, which established the Youth Sports Brain Injury Prevention Act.
The new law required every school district to distribute concussion information annually to each athlete and their family. Making Missouri one of the only states in the country to publish an annual brain injury report.
“We are trying to find out what is really going on out there,” said Richards.
Richards and MSHSAA are currently in the middle of a 2 year study, focused on reducing contact during football practices, in hopes to curb these numbers even further. A step that the Journal of Athletic training backs, stating that tackling and being tackled, are responsible for close to 70% of football concussions.
“You’re really smart with your players,” said Richard Rehagen. “Depending on where you are at in the season, you reduce down a lot of what you’re doing. The later in the year you are, the more you need to keep your team healthy.”
The goal is to get teams to have less than 90 minutes of contact per week. Less time injured, means more time on the playing field.
“Here’s why we are playing the game. You want to make sure the game progresses, but lets make it safe for everybody,” said Richards.
“Kids want to be involved in something and they want to be involved in something they can contribute to. You have 22 starters on offense and defense, then special teams. Kids have a chance to get out there and contribute to their school and their community,” said Voorhis.
“We have to continue to do more,” said Kurt Warner. “We have to continue to find better technology, we have to communicate better, and we have to continue to stay at the forefront of this issue.”