2NEWS Investigates: Concussions in sport, one Chouteau football player's helmet-jarring story
2:00 AM, Aug 20, 2013
7:23 PM, Aug 23, 2013
CHOUTEAU, Okla. - Under stadium lights in Adair in October 2012, two junior high school football teams squared off on the gridiron.
But the typical excitement turned sour when tight end and special teamer Kolby Bowyer was knocked unconscious on a kick off return.
"Turn around to block a guy and next thing I know, I'm on the ground and my coaches and doctors were hovering over me, asking me questions and asking me to move my feet," Bowyer recalled of the play.
Kolby says kickoffs weren't the norm at the middle school level, but in this game, the teams agreed to give it a shot.
"All I remember is really getting hit and then kids were telling me that I went down instantly, and I was out. And that's all I remember of it," said Bowyer, shortly after playing catch with his father Kenny on Chouteau's varsity football field in July.
Kenny doesn't need to search his memory for the moment his boy laid on the field unable to move. He can vividly recount the sight and sound of the smashing of helmets by the player Kolby describes as "this big old guy."
"I see it, and I hear this hit and it sounded just ferocious, like two bowling balls hitting," Kenny said.
Kolby was strapped to a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a Tulsa-area hospital.
"I felt really dizzy and just kind of confused and was wondering what was going on," he said. "Sharp pains, like needles were going into my neck and my head."
Kolby was diagnosed with a concussion.
"He was knocked completely out. So I knew this was different. I knew this was a little more serious," his father said.
Kolby would be out of football for a month and forbidden from stimulation of any kind, including TV, video games and -- most adamantly -- football.
Blows to the head aren't anything new between the hash marks. Its existence in the game, however, is now at the forefront of the discussion in football.
Perhaps the most attention is given at the NFL level, where more than 4,000 former players are suing the league over the long-term health effects they've incurred after suffering these traumatic brain injuries.
At the high school level alone, according to a recent head impact study performed by the Biomedical Engineering Society, high school football players can expect to receive 565 impacts to the head. That's just in one season.
Click on the image to read the study. (Mobile readers click this link -- http://bit.ly/DRDstudy)
Kolby and thousands of other high school football players across the country will do their best to avoid those under the Friday night lights this year.
Schools throughout Green Country want to prevent as many of those as possible, too.
The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association also requires education for school athletic staff members, who are mandated to watch an instructional video on concussions.
"If you're going to stay on top of this stuff, you've got to do it every day, and you've got to have a good communication," said Gil Cloud, the director of secondary school athletics and activities for the Tulsa Public Schools.
In addition to education, Green Country schools adhere to certain national standards provided by NOCSAE, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Founded in 1969, NOCSAE's mission is to reduce athletic injuries through education, research and the creation of performance standards.
Standards are also provided by NAERA, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association.
NAERA, in 2012, set a new path for football helmets. Last year, the organization prescribed a 10-year shelf life for helmets, which has long been the standard for notable helmet maker Riddell.
Under NAERA's and NOCSAE's combined guidelines for ensuring safety for football players, both also require the reconditioning of football equipment and its re-certification thereafter.
At TPS, Cloud says the gear is reconditioned yearly and re-certified twice within the 10-year life span of each helmet. Helmets deemed too damaged to use are destroyed.
"My director of sports medicine goes around to the schools and with the head football coaches and baseball and softball coaches. They look at all the helmets -- and in football -- all the shoulder pads, and they set aside the ones that are out of date," Cloud explained. "Ones that have reached the 10-year limit and been re-certified twice, they're done. And we pick those up and take them to the physical plant and crush them. The other ones we set aside for reconditioning."
Cloud provided 2NEWS with the
records for football helmets at TPS' junior high programs (http://bit.ly/tpshelmets). Each helmet in use was fewer than 10 years old, but 36 helmets were found to be eight or nine years old and are being worn by players just a few years older than the helmet meant to protect them.
Dr. Theron Bliss, who specializes in family and sports medicine for St. John, says standards like these aren't enough.
"I think it's a good start, but I think it just needs to be improved on because right now," he said. "It's a minimum standard."
Bliss says the peak concussion season for his office is during football season. He says some of the highest rates he sees are in adolescent children, followed by middle and high schoolers.
"A lot of it is going to have to come with proper education. This is real. This is happening. We're starting to see more and more of it with (professional football)," Bliss said. "People are having effects later in life when they're 40 or 50 or 60. They start to have cognitive delays and confusion and dementia."
According to a study by the University of Pittsburgh, there are an estimated 300,000 sports-related concussions in the U.S. every year.
Cloud, who's professional life has involved football in some capacity, says that while helmet technology has vastly improved, technique is the best way to ensure a player won't receive a concussion. And that, he says, is tackling with the head up.
Kolby's father Kenny, who says he advised his son not to play this year, says Kolby almost chose not to play. But Kolby's love for the game has pushed him to keep playing, and his father supports that decision.
"Obviously as parents, we can make the ultimate decision, but if we didn't feel it wasn't, you know, safe for him, we wouldn't let him play and we sure wouldn't let his brother sign up either," he said. "They both will be freshman and both be playing junior varsity and varsity football."
Kolby will play tight end for the Chouteau Wildcats junior varsity team during the 2013-2014 school year. He hopes to get time on varsity as well as both a tight end and a wide receiver.