Suicide leads to concussion prevention overhaul in Virginia

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Prince William County, in Northern Virginia, ushered in strict concussion awareness rules for the 2011-12 school sports season. For student athletes in the county to even try out for a sport, the student and at least one parent have to attend a one-hour seminar on concussions presented by a certified athletic trainer.

Former Brentsville football player Gilbert Austin Trenum
Former Brentsville football player Gilbert Austin Trenum

Schools in the district are deadly serious about the participation prerequisite, too, for a good reason: A devastating death in 2010.

As highlighted by the Washington Post, the death in question was the gruesome suicide of Gilbert Trenum III, pictured at right, a Brentsville (Va.) High student who hanged himself in September after suffering his second concussion in as many seasons. Trenum's family -- including Prince William County School Board member Gil Trenum -- now believe that their son suffered at least two other concussions in practice, and that his frequent head trauma was a direct contributor to the teen's decision to end his own life.

"We know so much more now," the surviving Gilbert Trenum told the Post. "So we're accountable for what we know. To be aware of what the risks are and what needs to be done and then to ignore that, to me, that would be unacceptable."

For years, ignoring the threat was the virtual status quo of prep sports concussion management. Then, rising concussion numbers and increased awareness of helmet issues and connected concerns shined a bright spotlight on head trauma throughout the 2010-11 school sport seasons.

Of the traumatic events that garnered national attention for youth head trauma risks, none were as striking as the death of Spring Hill (Kansas) running back and homecoming king Nathan Stiles, who tried to return to game action just weeks after suffering a concussion during a game only to collapse during his team's 99-72 victory and die at a hospital hours later.

"I think he just hit the ground pretty hard with his head," Spring Hill football coach Anthony Orrick told the press after Stiles' death. "He came not he sideline and told one of my assistants, 'my head is really hurting.' He sat down on the bench. He then stood up, but his legs went underneath him and collapsed there."

Stiles never recovered, just as the younger Trenum never did. Yet there is optimism that the new measures will make a difference in encouraging student athletes and parents to take the threat of concussions' lasting effects very seriously.

"I can't overstress the importance of kids knowing [this information]," said Trenum, whodonated Austin's brain to Boston University for head trauma research. "With my son, both times he was taken off the football field for a concussion, it wasn't because he was knocked out or anything else. His teammates noticed an issue and they took him to the trainer. Kids are probably going to be able to see the differences the soonest."

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