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JJ SAYS

We can do more to protect young athletes

Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

There is a scene in the new movie “42” where Jackie Robinson is smacked on the head by a deliberate bean ball. Robinson took the hit without the protection of a batting helmet. In the movie, he is dazed, but suffers nothing more than a bruise and a cut.

On the diamond last Friday, Petaluma High School batter Corey Echols took a pitch that thumped him in the head. “Thump” is the correct word because the sound of ball hitting helmet was audible to all in the stands. The spectators responded with an audible gasp followed by stunned silence. Unlike the fictional movie’s Jackie Robinson, the real life Corey Echols received a concussion from the blow to his head. He is going to be all right, but will miss a few days as he is closely monitored and medical protocols are followed to make sure there are no complications from what is a serious injury.

My first thought as I watched the dazed young player helped from the field was “Thank God for helmets.” In real life, when you are hit in the hit by a pitched baseball or, for that matter, a batted baseball you get hurt. I don’t think there is any serious doubt that Echols was saved from a severe injury by his batting helmet.

We have come a long way over the last 50 years, and in particular the last 20 years, in protecting athletes, especially young athletes, in all sports. But we can do more.

The Santa Rosa City Schools Board recently voted to have certified athletic trainers at all contact sporting events and to have all participants in contact sports take baseline cognitive tests to help evaluate head injuries.

Petaluma City Schools haven’t specifically mandated those precautions, but they are in place at Casa Grande High School where certified trainer and teacher Heather Campbell has been in the forefront of instituting and advocating for the baseline tests that measure athletes’ cognitive abilities to prepare a baseline to compare with impairments resulting from a head injury. Campbell is also present at most Casa contact athletic events. In addition, she teaches classes in athletic training, and her students regularly attend sporting events, not only learning, but also helping with routine preventative measures such as hydration.

Athletics are athletics and athletes will get hurt. The idea is to prevent as many injuries as possible and to lessen the severity of injuries once they do occur. The pioneering efforts of Campbell and the far-sightness of the Santa Rosa City Schools Board are positive steps in continuing efforts to protect young athletes.

More needs to be done.

Soccer supporters aren’t going to want to hear this, but it is past time that they took a look at helmets, especially for the younger players. The dangers of headers are obvious. A soccer ball is softer than a baseball, but it isn’t a Nerf ball, and continual use of the head is dangerous. It is also true that soccer, like basketball, is a contact sport. Players bang into one another with exuberance. Lacrosse players wear helmets, it is time to take a look at better protecting soccer players.

Much more likely to happen in the near future are face guards for all softball players. Many pitchers, including Petaluma High ace Dana Thomsen, are already wearing the protective devices and many position players are using them on the youth level. It won’t be long until they become standard practice for position players in high school.

It is something high school baseball pitchers should look at as well. Earlier this year, I saw Casa Grande pitcher Nick Marks take a hard smash off his body. He had to leave the game, but was not seriously injured. Gaucho pitcher Anthony Bender caught a line drive on instinct before it could cause damage. A few feet higher and both line drives could have caused major hurt. It will take some courage for baseball pitchers to take the step to masks, but there is nothing macho about a concussion.

There is no way to prevent all sports injuries. Casa Grande pitcher Kevin George was lost for the season when he was hurt in infield practice before a game. But we can do more to lessen the chances of injuries.

Sports are built on cliches. One of the truest is, “Better be safe than sorry.”

(Contact John jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)

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