Youth sports: What did "The Hidden Injury" reveal?
Several weeks before the first installment of "The Hidden Injury" ran in our sports section, we held a round-table discussion here at the office.
OK, so the table was rectangular. Let's not get caught up in semantics.
The meeting of the minds included several SVM staffers, Newman High School football coach Mike Papoccia, CGH Director of Physician Recruitment Shane Brown and KSB family practitioner Dr. Joseph Welty. It provided invaluable input as I tried to figure out how to hit all the important points in the series.
Perhaps what I remember most, though, was a warning from Dr. Welty that the series, if mishandled, could scare people.
I'm not sure the most padded of kids' gloves could have prevented me from throwing the fear of God into those who read all five installments of the series.
The subject matter – the unpredictable, often undetectable nature of concussions – is inherently scary.
It's often depressing, too. Just ask my wife about our conversation the night I got home from interviewing Ryan Hermes. Heck, ask my co-workers about my somber tone when I got off the phone with him.
The injury commands our respect. And if anyone in the Sauk Valley gained reverence for its ugly power, the series was a success.
The good news is it seems to have moved more than a few.
Dr. Michael DeFranco at CGH was like the Paulie to my Rocky. Whenever I let the subject matter of the series bog me down, or if I feared my stories were falling on blind eyes, he shared evidence that change was happening.
He'd been knocking on KSB's door for some time, hoping to pool resources and conduct preseason cognitive tests for as many teams as possible, and as effectively as possible.
DeFranco revealed to me a few weeks ago that he'd received a call from KSB inviting him to check out the hospital's state-of-the-art equipment that would help more effectively test athletes' balance and other vitals.
The good doctor recently told me he'd also been trying to reach the Bureau Valley football coaching staff to set up a time for him to visit practice and conduct preseason tests.
After several messages went unreturned, he got a call from head coach Jeff Ohlson. Shortly thereafter, he was in Manlius to test the Storm.
Maybe these occurences are happenstance, the series having nothing to do with folks coming around. Heaven knows Ohlson's had a full plate, what with taking over as athletic director and all.
But I'd like to believe the 15,000 or so words we've shoehorned into the section over the past 2 1/2 months have caught folks' attention. Hopefully it's shown that concussions affect more than former NFL players.
It affects the kid down the street. The paper boy. Your kids' friends. It's closer to home than most people likely realized.
I'll admit, I was surprised about just how many cases I found out about, especially considering HIPAA laws' prevention of second parties bringing others' injuries to light.
There were a few cases I heard about through the grapevine that didn't come to fruition. But their parents – understandably – didn't want to talk or let their kids talk about what they were dealing with until they had more information.
No sweat. Ryan Hermes' situation pretty much filled in all the gaps as we wrapped up the series. His story reflects so many reasons why concussions are to be feared.
Give it a read if you haven't yet. Hopefully all five installments will have staying power. I know so many of the conversations I've had will stick with me. Like Sterling athletic trainer Andi Sumerfelt, I look forward to checking in with those affected by "The Hidden Injury" over the years. Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, for making that possible.
I didn't consciously take on this series for it to be an agent of change. I simply wanted to raise awareness. One thing led to another.
I'm not trying to actively pat myself on the back for the series. I'm just humbled and grateful for a chance to pen a series that's engineered toward the greater good. We as sports guys can get a bad rap as meatheads oblivious to grander-scale issues.
There is no bigger issue than our kids being able to enjoy sports, family and the eternal pursuit of further education and happiness for the rest of their lives.
I thought I knew all about that going into the series. Now I know so much more.
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