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Union County Public Schools 'ahead of the game' in player safety

John Lowery, head football coach at Forest Hills High School, says the safety and welfare of his students are always a top priority. Photo by The Enquirer Journal photographer Jamie Belk.

Head injuries in football are getting more attention than ever.

In March of 2009, Senate Bill 864 was introduced, asking the N.C. legislature to fund the hiring of a licensed athletic trainer at every high school in the state.

At the time, the state had a full-time athletic trainer in just 42 percent of its high schools.

The Senate bill didn’t pass, but Union County Public Schools implemented the recommendation anyway.

All UCPS high schools will have a certified athletic trainer by the end of July 2012, according to UCPS Athletic Director Doug Jones.

Monroe High and Central Academy of Technology and the Arts are the last on board. Jones said both are expected to have a trainer in place by the start of football practice on July 30.

“I feel like Union County is ahead of the game when it comes to the safety of our athletes,” Jones said. “We’ve gone beyond what’s required. If it saves just one person, it’s all worth it.”

Jones said the athletic trainers have the final say about the condition of an athlete, and when he or she can return to action. “They’re the expert,” he said. “They have the training. That’s why they are there.”

John Lowery, entering his 26th season as the head football coach at Forest Hills High, says awareness is the key.

“As coaches, I think we have to look our kids in the eyes more often,” Lowery said. “You can tell pretty quick if a kid’s not right. We try to educate the kids, and encourage them to tell us if they’ve been hit in the head, but sometimes they will try to hide it and get back in the ballgame.”

Lowery wants to minimize the risk as much as possible. “We keep a trainer on the field with us at all times,” he said. “The safety and welfare of our kids always has to be our top priority.”

Union County has formed a partnership with Presbyterian Hospital, which not only provides the high school trainers, but also incurs the cost, according to Jones.

Furthermore, high school athletes in Union County are required to take a cognitive test before the season starts. It gives trainers a baseline, in the event of a head injury, “to see if their brainwaves have changed,” Jones said.

In addition to safety measures, Jones says the county puts a lot of emphasis on educating the coaches. UCPS holds an annual workshop that covers player safety, and every high school coach is required to attend.

It also trickles down to the middle schools. Jones said a seminar was recently held at Weddington Middle, and 45 coaches attended.

Lowery feels the awareness created by the suicide of 43-year-old NFL linebacker Junior Seau will generate more research about concussions following questions about whether damage from his football career contributed to his decision to commit suicide.
“Head injuries are a touchy subject,” Lowery said. “It’s a concern right now for everybody from the NFL down to the pee wees. I think we have to keep developing better helmets, and educate coaches and players as much as we can.”

--Reprinted with permission by the Enquirer Journal.

Written by: The Enquirer Journal Sports Editor Jerry Snow
Posted: Jul 19, 2012 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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