Brain Games: Concussions a Heady Topic at Hartford Clinic

  • Matt Burgess of USA Football fits Matt Trombly with a football helmet during a concussion awareness clinic at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on July 9. 2016. Trombly is the varsity football head coach in Hartford. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford Middle School football coach James Perry runs through a drill during a concussion awareness clinic at Hartford High School on July, 9, 2016 in White River Junction, Vt.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Saturday, July 09, 2016

White River Junction — Concussions and youth football topped the agenda during a Saturday gathering of Vermont football coaches and trainers at Hartford High School.

Matt Burgess, the head football coach at Maine’s Bridgton Academy and a USA Football trainer, warned everybody when it comes to concussions to “sit them out, when in doubt.”

The program is called Heads Up football, and Burgess spent four hours going over a number of pertinent points to aid those involved in the sport. In addition to concussions, Burgess had classroom-like instructions on equipment fitting, sudden cardiac arrest, heart preparedness and hydration.

Hartford High line coach Peter Lynch, who has been to similar clinics, was happy to get a refresher course, but his main reason for attending Saturday was to learn more blocking and tackling schemes, which were also addressed.

“Technique,” is what Lynch said was on his mind as he headed from the classroom to the gym for demonstrations on proper blocking and tackling.

While the concussion issue has been getting plenty of attention, the leading cause of death in youth sports is sudden cardiac arrest, which is not the same as a heart attack, Burgess said.

“It is an electrical disorder in the heart,” he said.

He further stated that such tragic events can be reduced by having athletes properly screened and by knowing family history. A booklet coaches received made a strong reference to having a defibrillator at all athletic events.

Even though preseason physicals and other screening methods can help detect heart issues, the first sign of a heart condition can be when a player collapses during exercise, hence the need for coaches and trainers to be trained in CPR methods.

Steve Landon, who coaches middle school football at Hartford, said the same stringent health and safety polices that the Vermont Principal Association makes mandatory for high school athletes also applies to middle school football.

“We have a trainer at all our games,” Landon said. “Mostly all the teams we play are held to the same standards.”

Heat is also a concern for coaches and trainers. Burgess said dealing with heat issues is sometimes difficult.

“We had a large African-American player at Bridgton that we thought was suffering from a heat issue, so we immersed him in cold water,” he said. “As it turns out he was having a sickle cell issue. Anyway, always call 911.”

He also said it probably won’t happen, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some sort of immersion tub to cool off a person.

“One of those $5.99 kiddie pools will do the trick,” he said.

Two-way linemen and players who run back kicks and punts and others that play multiple positions were listed as the most like candidates to get a concussion.

During the blocking and tackling technique session, it was strongly recommended that lines go about their business with their heads up — to let the arms and legs do most of the work. Making sure that each player has a properly sized helmet was also discussed.

“You can’t just send a player to a pile of helmets and tell him to pick one out,” said Burgess, who handed each coach a measuring tape and had them measure the head of his neighbor. “This is very important,” he said.

In regards to concussions, what the group seemed to have the most difficulty with was not so much recognizing the symptoms of a concussion, but just when it issafe to let a player return to the field because once a player has had one concussion he is more likely to have another. Coaches today are taught to follow a five-step method that includes a doctor’s OK.

“After that, I still sit him out the next game,” Burgess said.