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By Mark Hollis

mark hollisThere has been a noticeable increase in high school football players dying on the field of play. Some have died as a result of medical issues not detected in pre-physical examinations, while others have passed away as a result of collisions on the field. Regardless of the precipitating incident, the concern is that these young players have lost their lives perhaps needlessly while playing a sport they loved passionately. The football pundits are shaking their heads as to how to generate a quick fix to prevent these types of incidents from happening. Unfortunately, the base line of the game is violence and a player’s ability to excel in such a violent arena can be rewarding. These young players anticipate performing at a high level on the field in order to gain popularity amongst their peers and gain the attention of college recruiters. The question that many people have, including me, is how well prepared are they to compete?

One area of concern is the medical clearance that every player must pass so they can compete. There are a wide variety of medical providers that administer physicals such as pharmacy outlets that contract with nurse practitioners. Additionally, parents can also secure physicals for their kids at urgent care locations and walk-in clinics. The student is asked to fill out forms associated with their family medical history and alcohol/drug abuse prior to the actual physical. Some players can easily fabricate information that may hinder them from participating. Years ago the physicals were administered by the player’s family physician that knew every intricate detail of their medical history. Heart disease, which has been a leading contributor to the death of some players, would have been evident. Parents need to take a more active role in clearing their son or daughter to participate in competitive sports.

Another concern is teaching these young players the proper way to tackle. Youth coaches need to be properly trained in teaching the correct technique of tackling and blocking. Head and neck trauma is almost inevitable in a sport like football. When players are engaged on the field of play, even at the high school level, the fear of a concussion is at the forefront of thinking of every team doctor and trainer on the sideline. While there is a big push to modify the protective gear for safety reasons, the issue of helmet to helmet contact will always present a problem. Equipment manufacturers need to dedicate themselves to the research and development of helmets and padding that will lessen the incidents of injury.

The concern of safety has also started some conversation amongst school administrators that tackle football should be eliminated at the high school level and replaced with flag football. Obviously the concern here is liability. I personally don’t feel that decision is the answer. A preventative approach to the game is the direction to take with better screening for pre-existing conditions, effective coaching, and safer equipment. Doesn’t ruin the game —make it better.