Barrington parents, coaches tackle concussion concerns
Justin Dragosz carries the ball for the Barrington Broncos in a game last year against Conant. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 8:14AM
BARRINGTON — Barrington football coaches and parents have responded with skepticism to a proposed state law that would limit tackling in youth football practices.
The statewide legislation, introduced in January by state Rep. Carol Sente, was crafted in an attempt to curb head injuries. The 59th District Democrat followed up with a public forum on the topic Feb. 25 at Vernon Hills High School.
“I wonder how this really prepares kids to go out and learn,” responded Joe Sanchez, Barrington High School’s head football coach.
While Sanchez expressed support for measures that could reduce head injuries, he maintains that it’s important young football players learn the fundamentals of tackling to ensure their safety in games. A reduction in full-contact practice, he said, could prove dangerous to the young players.
“I think it makes it hard,” he explained. “You need to practice and it needs to be continually reinforced.”
Selinda Coon, a Barrington parent who has three sons who play football at District 220 schools, said the issue should be left to the coach’s discretion.
“If you learn the fundamentals correctly, it can be a very safe sport,” Coon said. “But if you’re not practicing enough to be proficient at it, would you want to be tackling in a game?”
Coon said the focus should be on ensuring coaches effectively teach tackling.
“If they have their head down, they’re going to get hurt,” said Coon, who’s oldest son suffered a concussion while playing football in eighth grade.
After the diagnosis, Coon said the coach made sure her son made a full recovery before returning to the field. Although she does not support Sente’s proposed legislation, Coon is in favor of the existing concussion testing protocols that are in place in District 220.
“I think it’s a great safety mechanism,” she said, adding that football is not the only sport with head injury risks.
“Football does get a nasty reputation,” she said, “but a varsity basketball game can be pretty rough as well.”
Kevin Stalsberg, lead athletic trainer at Barrington High School, said he also is wary of the proposal, partially because it is specific to football.
“I think it’s a slippery slope the legislature is going down now,” he said.
Stalsberg explained that a pediatric concussion is a cascade of chemical reactions in which symptoms may not show up for close to a week afterward. Barrington schools implement a computerized impact test that examines a young athlete’s reaction times and memory skills.
“I completely support finding ways to limit concussions, but we can’t just focus on football,” Stalsberg said. “All athletes are at risk.”
Sanchez said the issue deserves attention and discussion, but said the contact limitations isn’t the most effective solution.
“I don’t dispute the dialogue. I’m not disputing the point,” he said. “I understand what the intent is. I just don’t know if this is the best way to go about it.”
Sente introduced the bill after neurologist Lawrence Robbins approached her with concerns about athletic head injuries. Robbins, who sat on a panel of experts during the Feb. 25 forum, defended his research that found an average life-long football player takes approximately 8,000 blows to the head.