There was one major storyline that dominated high school football this fall: Concussion management. Whenever a player went down with an injury that might even be a head injury, the debate over maintaing the health of teenagers was immediately brought up, with concerns raised about the lack of standardized care in different states, a dearth of improved helmet technology in recent decades and concerns about the lack of funding for athletic trainers.
While all those concerns were valid, they underlie yet other legitimate concerns. After all, football is hardly the only contact sport played by high school athletes.
According to the Boston Globe, prep hockey teams are taking similarly wary approaches to potential head injuries early in the 2010-11 season, with special emphasis being placed on trying to keep shorter players from having their heads driven into the boards.
That's always been an issue for Needham (Mass.) High winger Timmy Parlato, at right, who stands only 5-foot-4 and 135 pounds. Despite his diminutive size, Parlato is like a number of prep hockey stars, with toughness that belies his stature. And he refuses to back down from a challenge in a corner, even after suffering a concussion while playing bantam hockey and watching his brother suffer through a pair himself.
Yet this year, Parlato has finally been convinced to look after himself first and worry about maintaining the puck second.
"If I'm going into the boards,'' Parlato told the Globe. "[If an opponent is] coming in following me, I usually forget about the puck and look after myself. The puck is second. Recently, I've been pretty good at avoiding those situations."
That changing emphasis is an outcropping of a host of new efforts by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which forced all coaches in all sports to take a brief concussion-education course before their current seasons.
While all the new measures taken by individual teams and state organizations are universally applauded as steps in the right direction, they aren't sufficient for Parlato's father, Tommy Parlato, who has written to USA Hockey exhorting the national body to push for a rule change that would suspend players and coaches who hit opponents from behind.
"It's a concern when you have smaller players," Parlato, who is a Needham youth hockey coach, told the Globe. "The trouble with all these concussions is that they're likely to cause early onset dementia when they're 45 or 50 years old. We want players to play clean. You don't need to put someone in a wheelchair for the rest of their life. You can play the game hard and clean at the same time."
Whether the elder Parlato's campaign to raise penalties for concussion-driven hits ever succeeds is to be determined, but his effort is certainly admirable. Regardless of what happens next, it underscores a new, heightened awareness about the risk of concussions to the safety of American teenagers on sports surfaces long after the football season ends.