School district supports call to forfeit football game because of head injuries
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 17, 2017 10:15AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 17, 2017 2:42PM EDT
FREDERICTON -- A New Brunswick high school football coach's decision to forfeit a game at halftime because of head injuries among his players is casting a fresh spotlight on how sports teams handle concussions.
Coach Marcel Metti of the L'Odyssee Olympiens halted a game last Friday against the Tantramar Titans with his team trailing 35-0.
Four Olympiens players had received body injuries, four declared concussions and four others displayed concussion symptoms but have since been cleared by a medical professional.
"I'm really proud of the coaching team," Monique Boudreau, superintendent of the Francophone South School District, said in an interview Tuesday. "I know it was a really big decision to make, but I think it was the best decision based on the circumstances."
The district recently adopted a new concussion protocol that says any player who receives a blow to the head must be cleared by a doctor before they can play again.
Boudreau said that to replace the injured players, the coach would have had to ask ninth-grade students to compete against older and more robust players.
"This would have put the young athletes at risk," said Boudreau.
Andy Clark, president of the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association, said officials have reviewed the game tape and have determined it was played within the rules of the game and there were no safety concerns.
In a statement, he said all football coaches are required to take a concussion course "and as such they are to ensure players that exhibit symptoms do not play."
According to the Mayo Clinic, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that in Ontario and Alberta -- the two provinces where the data was collected -- 94 per cent of emergency department visits for sport-related brain injuries in 2014--2015 were concussion related. The data showed a 45 per cent increase in emergency room visits among 10- to 17-year-olds over a five year period.
Hockey, cycling, football and rugby were the sports that sent the largest number of patients to the emergency department for brain injuries.
According to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, research on 202 former football players found evidence of brain disease in nearly all of them, from athletes in the CFL, NFL, college and even high school.
CTE -- chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 per cent of brains studied. That includes seven of eight from former CFL players, 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.
The CFL is facing a $200-million class-action lawsuit over concussions and brain trauma.
Cathy Simon, a physiotherapist in Saint John, said she now regularly sees cases of athletic concussions, which she chalks up to better awareness.
"Years ago it was kind of suck-it-up-and-keep-playing. There wasn't a lot of education around concussion or what we should do to treat concussions and the long term effects of it. Now I think people are becoming more aware and so they are reporting it more frequently," she said.
She said while concussion protocols are necessary, the best situation would be to have a therapist on the sidelines of each game to watch for concussion symptoms.
That is the situation at football games in the Seven Oaks School Division in Winnipeg.
Brian O'Leary, the superintendent of the division, said coaches are busy just coaching the games.
"They might not notice someone coming off wobbly. It's an extra precaution and it's a way of reducing the risk but there is still a risk in contact sports," he said.
O'Leary said Seven Oaks requires coaches to take a concussion course, and they're looking at requiring players and their parents to take it too.
"There are situations where parents can be pressuring a coach to put their kid in. So we want to keep that pressure off coaches and have parents understand and able to talk to their kids if they aren't playing and are frustrated with it," he said.