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Cameron Smith

Family takes high road after tragedy, costing concussion improvements?

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

If a past concussion and rush to get Spring Hill (Kan.) High football star Nathan Stiles back into game action are responsible for his death last month, his family isn't going to be pointing a finger at any officials who could have been responsible.

According to an ESPN.com report, the Stiles family insists that returning to game action was the decision of their son and themselves, and that only the Stiles family bears any responsibility for his death.

"We absolutely do not hold any bitterness to anyone for what happened," Ron Stiles, Nathan's father and a local politician, told ESPN.com. "[What happened to Nathan will be determined] by doctors and not lawyers."

The proclamation was a noble one on the part of the family, which has also gone out of its way to help players from Osawatomie High, the school Stiles was playing against on the night that he died, come to grips with the star running back's passing.

In fact, according to ESPN.com, Ron Stiles called the superintendent of the Osawatomie School District just hours after his son had died, asking if there was anything he could do to help them.

"Here this man had just lost his son and he was worried about everybody else," Osawatomie superintendent Gary French told ESPN.com. "It was an amazing display of faith and humanity. It was inspirational."

Yet, as inspirational as the Stiles family's faith in the face of tremendous heartache has been, it also may be papering over cracks in a faulty system for handling concussions in the state of Kansas. As Kansas High School Activities Association football administrator Rick Bowden told Prep Rally immediately after Stiles' death, the state does not have established procedures for analyzing or returning from concussions. While other states have created a standard protocol for clearing athletes to return to action, Kansas continues to let individual districts and schools determine when one of their athletes return to a game.

"The point I try to make is, it comes across as portraying us as insensitive, and that's not our position," Bowden told Prep Rally. "But kids going out and playing football are safer than kids going out and driving a car. We want to make sure that officials know what the signs are for head trauma, but we're not medically trained so that we can recognize those symptoms as best we can."

In the case of Stiles, most of the standard protocols used in other states were also implemented. While the running back and homecoming king didn't undergo an immediate concussion test after his first head injury, there was little reason for him to do so, as he didn't complain of headaches until the following day. As soon as Stiles did go to a doctor, he was given the requisite CT scan and other tests, and was told that he likely had suffered from some sort of a concussion.

He also didn't return to action until after he had passed a series of concussion management tests, all designed to make sure he wouldn't suffer the fate that he eventually did.

Yet while all those indications showed signs of responsible student-athlete management, the fact that they weren't being enforced by any state agency is troubling, and reform to create that additional safeguard could have started with the Stiles family, had they chosen to pursue it.

Instead, they've taken a higher road, focusing on trying to increase teen Bible study in honor of their son, whom no one feels can be adequately replaced. Just ask Spring Hill football coach Anthony Orrick.

"I'm not convinced that he wasn't some sort of angel," Coach Orrick said. "I know people will have a hard time believing that, but when you look at the type of person he was you can't help but ask 'How can I better myself?'

"I'm not sure Nate wasn't put here on earth to do just that -- to change a lot of us for the better."

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