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Trauma Center Spreads Message Of Sports Safety

With the fall sports season underway, Southwest Florida high school athletes may benefit from some extra precautions this year.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that high school athletes account for about 2 million injuries and 30,000 hospitalizations every year and the number is growing.  So, the Lee Memorial Health System Trauma Center has partnered with the STOP Sports Injuries campaign, a public outreach program designed to promote safe participation in sports.

The trauma center is educating coaches, parents and young athletes to reduce the number of preventable injuries.

Mark Tesoro, an analyst and educator with the Trauma Center, recently spoke before all the Pop Warner coaches in the Peace River Football Conference,which covers the area from Port Charlotte down to Naples.

The youth league has added new rules to decrease athletes’ risks of concussions. The rules limit the amount of contact during practice and prohibit full speed, head-on blocking and tackling drills. But Tesoro said injuries aren’t restricted to football. 

“Pop Warner and football tend to get the brunt of the criticism,” said Tesoro. “For boys, we tend to see soccer, basketball as well as football being an injury sport. And for females we tend to see soccer as well, it’s number one, but volleyball, basketball injuries, very, very common. Cheerleading. Huge issues with cheerleading.”

Kelly Nicholson is the Southeast Region Pop Warner assistant cheer coordinator. She’s also a mom who has witnessed her own child’s odd behavior after a sports-related head injury. Her son hit his head while tumbling at a local gym. Nicholson said he called her twice from the gym during a 5-minute span and essentially told her the exact same thing both times because he didn’t remember calling her the first time. She said the experience left her with a greater appreciation for Pop Warner’s strengthened concussion guidelines.

“Seeing first hand my son going through that, I definitely have a different appreciation for that,” said Nicholson. “I’m an RN, and I’ve seen concussions, but when it hits that close to home it’s a whole different ball game,” she said.

Commander Julie Gilchrist, MD, is a pediatrician and medical epidemiologist with the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) at the CDC. She said while concussions aren’t the most common sports injury, they are among the most serious.

“We focus on them because it’s a child’s brain,” said Gilchrist. But she said there are other important injuries, as well. “So it’s not to say it’s the only one, but it’s certainly one that’s received a high level of visibility.”

Gilchrist said the agency’s injury statistics, which include 500,000 doctor visits each year among high school athletes, are not meant to scare parents. Instead, she urges parents to become empowered by their knowledge of the risks to make sure their children participate safely.

“I think it’s very important that children are encouraged to participate. These physical activities, things they are passionate about, that they love, that they enjoy, that they learn so much from, that they can do with their friends, so we don’t want anybody to get scared or pull their children out, because they certainly need to be physically active,” said Gilchrist.

Tesoro agrees and says even with the risk of injuries, young athletes benefit from participation in sports. Athletes learn teamwork and how to overcome adversity. And he said playing sports can help with other issues as well.

“As a medical professional, I think sometimes people see us as trying to keep kids from playing but we want to do the exact opposite,” said Tesoro. “We have such an obesity issue and health problems related to the obesity issue that the more kids that play sports, the better.”

Tesoro said precautions should be taken while athletes are young so they can enjoy playing into adulthood. He said coaches, referees, parents and athletes are all responsible for sport safety. He said if there is any doubt about an athlete’s health, he or she should be removed from the game until they are checked by a medical professional.