"It would be scary for me to play again because my brain is really important to me and I have plans for graduate school," she says. "Once I am cleared, I'm going to have to really examine if I'm willing to take that risk."

For those who decide to stick it out, they may be playing a game that could be significantly altered in the future. Arizona, for example, has considered eliminating kickoffs from high school football because of the dangers inherent when players collide with each other at top speeds.

Other organizations are relying on updated helmet technologies to try and prevent concussions. Even though it's impossible to completely prevent head trauma in football, helmet manufacturer Riddell has, in the past 20 years, redesigned and released several types of helmets.

Miami's David Goldstein spoke to the Florida legislators about devastating health problems that developed after he suffered multiple concussions. Despite his testimony, Florida killed a concussion bill for youth athletes.
Michael McElroy
Miami's David Goldstein spoke to the Florida legislators about devastating health problems that developed after he suffered multiple concussions. Despite his testimony, Florida killed a concussion bill for youth athletes.
Five years ago, former soccer player Natasha Helmick (left) once played a game half-blind after sustaining a concussion. Today, her mother, Micky, says that it takes her daughter three times as long to complete mental tasks.
Mark Graham
Five years ago, former soccer player Natasha Helmick (left) once played a game half-blind after sustaining a concussion. Today, her mother, Micky, says that it takes her daughter three times as long to complete mental tasks.

For the 2011 season, each varsity player for Houston-area football powerhouse Katy High School will don the pricey and brand-new Riddell Revolution Speed helmet, which costs anywhere from $236 to $1,030. The previous version, the Riddell Revolution, helped decrease concussions by more than 300 percent, according to Katy head athletic trainer Justin Landers.

Katy's football staff has the money to use ImPACT testing and state-of-the-art helmets. However, one thing Landers and his coaching staff can't control is the win-hungry culture of Texas high school football.

From early June to mid-July, with the hot Texas sun overhead, Katy players run sprints on an outdoor practice field and hit the weight room during a five-week summer fitness program. Around this time every year, several parents — who are desperate for their freshman enrollees to gain a competitive advantage — will call Landers to ask his advice on what type of helmet they should buy for their sons. Landers, the son of a helmet salesman, is freaked that these kids will go out on some random field with ill-fitting equipment and hurt themselves.

Landers is another athletic trainer who believes that the state's recently passed concussion legislation has its shortcomings and that "the judgment call on whether to pull a kid from play won't make the decision any easier," he says. "We would look foolish if we were to send a kid to the doctor and he didn't end up having a concussion. That would be a waste of time and money."

Likewise, in Terry Merkel's estimation, it would have been pointless to drive his son Justin to the doctor's office after the 11-year-old sustained a minor concussion three years ago.

During a youth football game in Gilbert, Justin broke off a long run down the middle of the field and toward the goal line. But before he was able to score, he was tackled low and "his head bounced off the ground like a basketball," says Terry, who was coaching from the sidelines that day.

"My brain was vibrating in my head," remembers Justin, who is now 14 years old. "I didn't know what was going on. I was looking at my coach and he was looking at me like I was crazy."

An on-site athletic trainer determined that Justin didn't need to seek further care. Three days later, he was back at practice and continued the season as normal. He and his dad say that Justin has been fine ever since. Four years ago, Landers told a varsity football player who had suffered a staggering three concussions in five months to go to the doctor toward the end of the regular season. The athlete, a key contributor to the Tigers' playoff push, was deemed unfit to continue playing football.

Though Landers realizes that the doctor's decision was probably the right call, he still feels like he screwed up.

"I still feel badly," says Landers through teary eyes, as if the incident had just happened yesterday, "because he'll never get to experience what it's like to play in a Texas [high school football] playoff game."

Former hockey player Kayla Meyer, unable to take the clatter of hallways or lunchrooms at her Minneapolis-area school, gets to her classes five minutes late and leaves late as well. She's missed 75 school days in two years. She eats lunch alone. Once a popular girl, she has been abandoned by all but a couple of her friends, so now Meyer mostly hangs out with her mother's friends.

Her plan had always been to become a vet technician so that she could take over the family business, a dog kennel on their farm. But now Meyer can't take barking. She can't ride horses because the motion makes her sick. And when reading, she now has difficulty processing individual words on a page.

"I have reading glasses now, but I always forget them," says Meyer, "and then I can only stand reading without my glasses for a couple of minutes, before the pain gets too bad."

The Meyers don't have health insurance. Sending Kayla to specialists is leaching the family's finances. Though they try to keep it from her, she's noticed that the ATV and the horse trailer have gone missing, pawned by her parents for cash. Next will be the horses, and one day maybe the farm itself.

There's no end in sight for Kayla's condition. "The physical therapists used to give us targets," says Mandy Meyer. "'It will be two weeks, two weeks.' Now they don't give her targets, because she's missed so many of them."

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10 comments
days out for kids
days out for kids

Wally do not ever gets whatever what is the news is during things. He's got designate is acceptable. Asphalt. What i mean discourage start! Speculation the guy would will need to care about having a concussion should the guy tried athletic? Heh.

Amber Murray
Amber Murray

Your websites terrible! Loading issues won't let me read the article.

Doug Bittle
Doug Bittle

Walter never sees what the news is in anything. He's name is appropriate. Concrete. As in block head! Guess he wouldn't have to worry about getting a concussion if he played sports? Heh

SLA
SLA

I had a concussion when I was 5 from being thrown from a horse. Will it be illegal to ride hroses as a kid too? I probably had a harder time than everyone else in a lot of subjects too, but I was never "dumb" always perceptive and got decent grades, but I had a problem retaining the information without a lot of extra work or emotion involved. I forget things very easily, but not to the point that it's screwing up my life. At what point do we ask ourselves is a safe and boring world really living...? Now if they're playing sports, yeah, don't be a moron, get your kid out and take them to the doctor...but frankly, the damage is done at that point.

charles
charles

Uhhh how about an informed society???? personally I didin't know about the future problems but thanks to this article I do now....people like you should be hit in the head with a shovel.....after diggin of course.

Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

I don't see what the news is here. It's common sense. Isn't western medicine and big pharma the saviours of the western world? It's obvious...if you get hit in the head you sit out and get checked. Sports is a game, it's not crucial to play with injury. In fact it's a programmed response for slaves to adhere to and be one of the pack.

 
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