ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Cedar Shoals High School is one of about 33 high schools nationwide, and the only one in Georgia, in an NFL-backed pilot program called Heads Up Football, which they hope will reduce concussion-related trauma.
The awareness and training program is designed to reduce the frequency of football helmet-to-helmet contact, which can result in concussions.
Until the last few years, the damage from concussions was thought to be temporary, but evidence has begun to mount that concussive brain injuries can result in long-term damage, especially when someone experiences multiple concussions over time.
Concussions happen in sports other than football, but football has been the focus of the safety debate.
Perhaps because of publicity about football-related concussion injuries, participation in youth football dropped about 6 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to USA Football.
College and pro players have filed high-profile lawsuits filed against the NFL and NCAA over whether the leagues adequately informed players of the dangers posed by head trauma. Late last month, the NFL and more than 4,500 retired players tentatively agreed to a $765 million settlement.
There are a lot of ways to get a concussion in football. The most common cause is when a player's head hits the ground, said Cedar Shoals athletic director Roger Edmonds. Concussions can even happen when there's no head contact, say medical professionals.
But the new Heads Up program will help reduce concussions, said Edmonds and Cedar Shoals High School head football coach Chris Davis. The program is also endorsed by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The aim is to get players to tackle at the shoulder, avoiding the head.
"I think it makes the game safer for everybody," he said. "We're trying to do the right thing for our kids. We're going to be as proactive as we can."
Davis learned of the Heads Up Football this summer at a training session for youth football coaches and officials. He thought it could help in high school, too.
High school football officials have recognized concussion trauma as a serious issue for years, said Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association.
"We've had a lot of emphasis about this for a long time," he said.
But now there's even a state law regulating how coaches and school officials must deal with concussions.
Only a medical professional such as a physician or certified trainer can clear a player who may have had a concussion to re-enter a game or practice, for example.
Football referees this year have been instructed to watch closely for violations of rules already in place that limit head-to-head contact, Swearngin said.
Researchers are looking at possible solutions in the design of football helmets, which are meant to prevent head injuries such as broken skulls, but may offer little protection from concussions.
Researchers are even looking into the relative hardness of football field surfaces with an eye toward reducing the impacts that can cause concussion, Edmonds said.
"I just think the rules are going to get more and more stringent," he said.
Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com
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