Concussion safety a main focus as high school football season begins

(WXYZ) - The high school football season officially kicked off Monday, signaling the beginning of the celebrated season in Michigan.

Coaches opened practices as the sun came up, and the rain poured down. The focus is on football, but a growing concern in the game is the danger of concussions.

The growing awareness and conversation about concussions isn't by chance. The number of annual injuries suffered to the head is on the rise and the danger is real.

Marloes Blokdijk, a certified athletic trainer with Henry Ford Health Systems, says a concussion is difficult to diagnose from the outside, making it a tough process.

"Because it is something you cannot see, you see it in the changes of your child's behavior, but it's not as blatantly obvious as having a knee injury, or an ankle injury," Blokdijk said.

"I tell my student athletes, 'You have a brain injury.' Because that's what it is."

From the NFL all the way down to Pop Warner, concussions are taking players off the field, and the impact is lasting more than just a few missed games on the sideline.

"It's scary because all different kinds of things can happen. The hardest thing is: we don't want to make parents scared," Blokdijk explained.

Fortunately, in the past five years, there have been progressions in concussion diagnoses and studies. The NFL's awareness and action towards concussion prevention has had a trickle down effect.

There are tests online to help serve as a barometer of the brain's function before the season begins. Baseline, ImPACT, and other 30-minute, certified tests are available online.

Coupling those tests with some schools' fortune of a readily available athletic trainer, and information is abundant these days.

"The state (has) put together a program where not only the coaches have been trained, but we train the parents, and the players as well, to recognize the symptoms and how to deal with them," Walled Lake Central head coach Bob Meyer said.

Brother Rice head coach Al Fracassa said he has been instructing players since he started coaching 54 years ago to hit with their heads high. Technique, he explained, can help prevent injuries to the head.

"We never want our players to get hurt," he said.

Injuries are an unfortunate part of sports, and Blokdijk said parents and players need to understand concussions are a risk, but that they are just a part of a grand game with many, many variables.

The good news? Administrators, coaches, parents, and players are all taking notice - and continually doing more and more to fight the danger.

Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter for WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli

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