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It takes a community

If The Hidden Injury makes the top-5 cut, I wonder if the Associated Press Sports Editors could send us a few dozen plaques. I'd love to give one to everyone who helped make the series possible.

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I might work in sports, but I'm not terribly superstitious.

So I have no problem crafting this blog and discussing what I'd hypothetically do if "The Hidden Injury" makes the top 5 and wins a national award when the announcement drops in April.

Just making the top 10, as was announced in Wednesday's wee hours, is tremendously humbling.

I poured my soul into the series. But saying I couldn't have done it alone is anything but lip service. Need me to prove it? Fine. Be warned, there are a lot of chief contributors:

- Confession time. I was nervous. I knew the potential of this series, especially with the way the subject matter was percolating. So I set up a roundtable featuring longtime Newman head football coach and AD Mike Papoccia, athletic trainers Shane Brown of Rock Falls and Andy Accardi of Newman, Dr. Joseph Welty of KSB, as well as SVM sports editor Dan Woessner, managing editor Jeff Rogers, opinon page editor Jim Dunn and multimedia guru Angel Sierra. I needed their insight, and boy did I get it. A long, impassioned and informed discussion got the ball rolling. Never could I have imagined the speed it would achieve.

- One person who couldn't make the meeting was Dr. Michael DeFranco, who I'd met with a couple of weeks prior to learn about his concussion program at CGH. While he couldn't make the think tank, he became the most accurate arrow in my proverbial quiver, always carving out time in his schedule for me to drop by the clinic and ask questions. It seemed almost daily he was sending me stories or videos that were enormously helpful.

- The subject of each installment of the series were tremendous. The Hafners, who starred in the initial installment, bore their hearts to me. Juan Gonzalez didn't mince words in Episode 2, and coaches like Mahmoud Etemadi and Susie LeMay were equally honest with their concerns about brain injuries and the measures (or lack thereof) to prevent them. I can't say enough about our triumvirate of athletic trainers, Brown, Accardi and Sterling's Andi Sumerfelt, the last of whom couldn't better embodied the issue of high schools rolling the dice without an athletic trainer. Then Jed Johnson, with palpable trepidation, invited me into his living room to discuss he and his wife's disagreement over whether their son should play junior tackle football. Finally, Ryan Hermes let me slowly chip away at the wall he'd spent almost 10 years building. Finally, he was being completely truthful about his (at least) 10 concussions and how he learned to hide them. (Extra credit to Jeff Rogers for having the premonition and suggesting the series' name). Many others were crazy helpful. Newman junior tackle coach Jube Manzano, Amboy junior tackle coach Todd Hobbs, Rock Falls youth coach Troy Ebenezer. Virtually every athletic director in the area, even if a select few played their cards rather closely to their chests. You'll just have to trust me when I say, from a community standpoint, the list goes on and on and...

- After all these folks helped me gather all the info I needed, our staff helped me bring it to life. Dan Woessner set the tone with the perfect layout for Part 1: "ETHAN SPEAKS UP", ominously hovering over a photo of 12-year-old Ethan Hafner pensively staring at seemingly nothing. Which brings to mind our photo staff. Alex T. Paschal took that phenomenal portrait and designed the chilling X-ray logo for the series. Phil Marruffo lit and snapped the incredible photo of Gonzalez holding a football in one arm and a cheerleader on the opposite hand, all set against a bleak backdrop. For each installment, Angel carved out the time to shoot and edit a video. He built the series' page on our website and pushed the almighty button that made each part go live. With each passing installment, our sports staffers pored over copy, asked great questions and, in Brian Weidman's case, consistently responded with, "Lot of good stuff in there," which I've learned is his highest praise. On that note, the entire Sauk Valley Media editorial department needs credit for being tirelessly supportive and encouraging.

I'm sure there are many people I missed, but hopefully you get the idea. It takes a community to do this.

I couldn't be more proud of the series. It might win a national award. But, more importantly, it served as an agent of change. The stories I've heard since its conception were moving and often breathtaking.

Now we play the waiting game. If we get good news in a few weeks, I'm going to have a lot of people to congratulate.

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