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A series, by Ellen Abbott, on the issue of concussions in CNY.

Concussion series pt 3: Spotting the signs of concussion

While a new law in New York State puts more stringent rules in place for how school districts must deal with concussions suffered by student athletes, club sports aren't covered by any such regulations.  As WRVO's Ellen Abbott reports in the third part of a series, at least one central New York recreational league is trying to do something about it.

For the first time ever this year, Pop Warner football coaches and cheerleading coaches were required to go to a concussion training session before the season started.  Pop Warner president John Wells, says these sessions go beyond what they are required to do.

“I think there’s a lot of things they need to know,” said Wells. “Winning’s not everything.  Winning’s a product of good coaching, and good coaching means making sure children are safe.”

James Cole coaches the Sherman Park Bulldogs, and has seen plenty of hits to the head in his 25 years as a coach.

“Helmet to helmet hits, they happen,” said Cole. “And we’ve had kids go out of the game, and I think this training is a good thing, because now we’ll be trained for that situation.”

Cole says he and most coaches “get it.”

“It’s for kids health and safety,” he said. “He’ll play another day.  And if it comes to whether the kid could really get hurt badly, you gotta take him out. You gotta sit him.”

And it’s not just football coaches who need to be aware.  Central New York Pop Warner cheerleading commissioner Ginny Marasco says cheerleading these days is more than just jumping around with a pom-pom.

“We do an awful lot of physical contact,” said Marasco. “We’ve definitely become a contact sport.”

Marasco admits the cheerleading concussion connection has only recently become top of mind.

“It was not something anyone thought of even three or four years ago as injuries to cheerleaders,” said Marasco. “It’s becoming much, much more common.  And we’ve got trainers now even at the high school level that we didn’t used to have access to,  and they’re the ones telling us to be careful, make sure you have them checked out to see if there is a concussion involved.  And everything is working together to make sure these kids say safe.”

But while the coaches are getting trained, and  a new state law is in place requiring kids with concussions to sit out is in place, the reality is the athletes themselves have to step up and say they have the symptoms of a concussion. That would mean coming out of the game, which is hard for a kid or a professional for that matter.

Cole says “Everybody wants to keep playing from the pros on down. Nobody ever wants to go out of the game, but for safety purposes you could get a really serious injury playing with a concussion.”

Carolyn Tangoran of Fayetteville suffered concussions cheerleading and playing lacrosse.  She says the pressure to keep playing is intense.

“I was in seventh grade and I felt too much pressure to say I was hurt, to step out,” said Tangoran. Even when I was that young, sports were so competitive.  And at the high school level, the J-V, the varsity level no one wants to come off the field.  No one wants to take the time to sit out.  So many people will put it aside, take some Tylenol, take some Advil, and keep playing.”

And that’s why, while these seminars are great at teaching coaches and adults what a concussion is, and how dangerous they are, the most important thing according to Dr. Brian Rieger, of the SUNY Upstate Concussion Center, is changing the culture around concussion.

“Part of what I say to coaches,  this isn’t about you on the sideline trying to notice if a kid has a concussion, this is about telling your kids that you’re going to have zero tolerance for finding out that a kid had symptoms, told the other players on the team and nobody fessed up and ratted the kid out,” said Dr. Reiger. “That’s not the culture we want, not with head injury. If a kid’s in a huddle, if a kid’s telling other kids they have a headache but don’t tell the coach beause we’ve got the big game or the big competition on Friday, it’s tough for kids to do that, because they’re a team but they should really take it seriously and learn that when it comes to a head injury it’s time to go that coach or that parent and tell somebody for the safety of that kid.”


Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.