Do you hear that sound? The sound of pads clapping, whistles screeching and that unbearable sound of your coach yelling because you messed up the drill.
Yup, high school sports are back. Starting last week, football players across the Commonwealth donned their helmets, laced up their cleats and buckled their chinstraps for the first day of fall practice.
Back in my day, which is not that long ago, double-sessions were the most unbearable time of the year. Excessive heat, humidity and coaches with tempers hotter than the sweltering summer sun itself.
Yeah, that is what I remember. First, we would go through stretches then a little conditioning exercise called the four-minute drill. The four-minute drill was a bear that featured various stations of calisthenics such as high knees, mountain climbers, etc.
For those four-minutes, the word "rest" was erased from the vocabulary of all the players and coaches. Next after the drill were seven-on-sevens and when practice was almost over, we would convene for full-contact scrimmage.
Now, when I pull up to a football practice I hear the pads pop, but I also see coaches taking further precautions to ensure the health of their players. Look at Groton-Dunstable, it recently put in place a concussion test called ImPact for its students. ImPact is currently voluntary, but there is already talk that it should be mandatory.
Coaches are giving their players more water-breaks to ensure their health, and they are now required by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association to complete a concussion awareness test online prior to the renewal of their license.
Numbers across the Nashoba Valley are down when it comes to football, maybe it's the time-commitment or could it possibly be the mainstream media pumping the dangers of concussions into the minds of many parents?
I say the best thing a parent can do is let their child play, but be sure that their coaches have been properly trained to spot the first-signs of a concussion.
Parents are required to go online and educate themselves on the warning signs of concussions and return a signed form to their child's athletic director saying that they have done so. Groton-Dunstable's football team during week one of training camp had roughly 50 kids, while Ayer-Shirley has around 30. North Middlesex appeared to be the most well off, but that could also be due in part to the size of the school.
No matter how many rules leagues enact to promote player safety, concussions will always be part of the equation in contact sports such as football. Last week, I completed the ImPact testing at Groton-Dunstable after athletic director Mike McCaffrey suggested I take it for myself before writing a story about it. It was an eye-opening experience, and in my outside opinion, I think it should be made mandatory for every athlete to complete. The state should offer schools grants for adopting concussion detection technology, such as ImPact testing, to help offset the cost of the often expensive program.
Groton-Dunstable was lucky that its boosters raised enough money to purchase the costly one-year license, but as we all know, money is short. Remember when every school did not have a heart defibrillator on its sidelines? It took the unfortunate deaths of a handful of young athletes to finally make it mandatory.
It's good to see that even youth football leagues are starting to recognize the dangers of concussions. North Middlesex American Youth Football has recently started providing Axon baseline concussion testing for its young athletes
What's it going to take to make concussion baseline testing mandatory at all levels of interscholastic competition? Do we really want our kids returning to the sidelines prematurely?
I know it all boils down to money, but no amount of dollars and cents can erase the lingering effects of concussions.
Athletes: If you feel "buzzed," tell your coach, tell somebody, because even a low-grade concussion is nothing to take lightly.