On the MHSAA web site this week there were the two stories right next to each other at the top of the page. Side by side. Related in every way possible, both major concerns for any parent whose son straps on a helmet every day.
The first story, released on Aug. 3, is about new rule changes for high school football. The MHSAA and others continue to look at ways to make the game safer and several new rules that go into effect this year are meant to “minimize health risks in all interscholastic sports.”
The second story, released on Aug. 7, is MHSAA’s concussion report findings for the 2016-17 school year.
Football. Concussions. They’ve become synonymous with one another. The question is can the game of football be played as it’s played today without the dangers of long-term health risks associated with concussions?
Hence, the need for such reports. And give the MHSAA credit for stepping up and beginning this process of discovery.
Are some parents overprotective of their kids by not allowing them to play football? No. Because no one has the right to tell a parent what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to the safety of their child.
Football can certainly be made safer at every level. Anyone who has stood on the sideline of an NFL game or college knows how violent football is or at least can be. The potential for serious injury is there on every snap of the ball.
And while the players on the high school level are not as big or as strong or as fast as the upper ranks, the potential for injury is very much there on every play.
For the past two seasons, Michigan high schools were required to report head injuries to the MHSAA identifying the sport that each student-athlete was participating in and whether the injury was sustained during practice or competition. Schools again will be required to designate if potential concussions occur during competition or practice and at which level – varsity, junior varsity or freshman.
The 2016-17 concussion report found an 11-percent decrease in the number of confirmed concussions from the previous year. Student-athletes at MHSAA member high schools encountered during 2016-17 a total of 3,958 head injuries – or 5.2 per member school, similar but lower than the 2015-16 average of 5.9. Total participation in MHSAA sports for 2016-17 was 283,625 – with students counted once for each sport he or she played – and only 1.4 percent of participants experienced a head injury; that percentage in 2015-16 was 1.6.
MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said that while it’s significant to note the similarity in those statistics over the first two years of injury report collection, the lower percentages in 2016-17 don’t necessarily represent a trend – that conclusion can only be made after more data is collected in years to come. “Our first survey in 2015-16 raised some initial themes, and the data we collected this past year and will continue to collect will help us identify the trends that will guide our next steps in reducing head injuries in interscholastic athletics,” Roberts said. “However, the necessity for more data to determine these trends should not delay our efforts to experiment with more head protection and modified play and practice rules in contact sports like ice hockey, soccer, wrestling and lacrosse – which all ranked among the top 10 sports for numbers of head injuries per thousand participants.”
Other numbers and findings from the report:
* Boys experienced 2,607 – or 66 percent – of those injuries, nearly the same ratio as 2015-16 and as boys participation in sports, especially contact sports, remained higher than girls. More than half of head injuries – 55 percent – were experienced by varsity athletes, which also fell within a percent difference of last year’s findings.
* A total of 2,973 head injuries – or 65 percent – came in competition as opposed to practice. More than half took place during either the middle of practice or middle of competition as opposed to the start or end, and 52 percent of injuries were a result of person-to-person contact. The largest percentage of athletes – 27 percent – returned to activity after 6 to 10 days, while 23 percent of those who suffered head injuries returned after 11-15 days of rest. All of these findings were within 1-4 percent of those discovered from the 2015-16 data.
* Contact sports again revealed the most head injuries. Ranking first was football, 11 and 8-player combined, with 44 head injuries per 1,000 participants – a decrease of five head injuries per 1,000 participants from 2015-16. Ice hockey repeated with the second-most injuries per 1,000, with 36 (down two injuries per 1,000 from 2015-16), and girls soccer was again third with 28 head injuries per 1,000 participants (also down two from the previous year).