Steamboat Springs football players Skylar Kauf (No. 1) and Billy Clark (No. 21) go for a ball during practice last summer. Players wear Guardian Caps over their helmets to help reduce concussions during practice.

John F. Russell/file

Steamboat Springs football players Skylar Kauf (No. 1) and Billy Clark (No. 21) go for a ball during practice last summer. Players wear Guardian Caps over their helmets to help reduce concussions during practice.

Steamboat Springs football team sees reduced number of concussions

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— As the discussion about head trauma and concussions rages on, there is some good news coming out of Steamboat Springs High School.

After 13 concussions were reported during the 2011 football season, that number was reduced to four this past season.

These numbers “didn’t happen by chance,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, who worked closely with Sailors coach Lonn Clementson to try to reduce concussions. “You create your own luck, so to speak. I’m not certain what helps and doesn’t, but we’ve created conditions where there are fewer head injuries. I think these numbers look at the work many different people and organizations have put into head injuries and preventing them.”

With the help of $28,000 in community donations and help from the Steamboat Springs High School Booster Club, the football program was able to purchase 67 new helmets from three manufacturers and recondition 10 helmets.

The team also found face masks, chin straps and mouth pieces that are designed to reduce the risk of a concussion and spent time on neck and jaw strengthening exercises it learned from former coach and NFL player Tim Krumrie.

Steamboat also focused on proper tackling technique, and Clementson spent time talking with Saint John’s University offensive coordinator Jim Gagliardi, whose program limits contact in practice.

During practice and hitting days, Steamboat would use Guardian Caps, pieces that go over helmets and reduce an impact by as much as 33 percent, according to the company that makes them.

“One thing is, will we be able to repeat these results?” Clementson said. “There is still some chance involved. There is risk involved in any game. But I’m not surprised. We hope to see those results again. We’ll be doing the same sort of practices.”

The improved numbers come on the heels of Colorado legislators working to prevent concussions.

In January 2012, a law went into effect requiring coaches to bench players suspected of having a concussion. It also required coaches to take a yearly course on concussion education.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 are admitted to the hospital for concussions. Some 60,000 of those come from high school sports.

In Steamboat, athletes playing contact sports also have to take an ImPACT test that gives them a neurological baseline.

“I think it’s something that we’ll continue to see advances in education and technology and the handling of concussions in general,” Steamboat Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe said. “The safety of our student athletes is something we take serious.”

Although the numbers of concussions varied in other sports — there were five in each of the past two basketball seasons — the reduction in football is a sign something is working whether it’s the helmets, the Guardian Caps, less contact in practice, increased neck strength or a combination of everything.

“On the surface of it, I was surprised,” Harrington said. “With football, Lonn made a lot of efforts to try and reduce concussions. It’s a one-year interval, but the trend is very exciting. I think it’s more than a random change. I think it does reflect the efforts he made and the administration made.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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