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High school coaches are aware of concussions

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High school coaches are aware of concussions

With all of the stories of head injuries being generated by professional football in recent months -- most notably the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau -- it was only natural that the controversial issue would trickle down to the high schools.

Veteran coaches Chris Andriano of Montini, Bill Mosel of Thornton, Bill Mitz of Jacobs, Ed Brucker of Marian Central and Frank Lenti of Mount Carmel have been aware of the concussion factor since helmets cost only 75 and coaches conducted three-a-days and didn't permit their players to drink water.

"The game has definitely changed," said Andriano, who has been coaching for 33 years. "We have never had a neck or spinal injury but we've had some concussions. But I can't think of any of our players who have had any kind of serious head problem over the last 30 years. We've always been very cautious and handled them the right way."

They concede the game is more physical than ever before, even at the high school level. And athletes are bigger, stronger and faster, thus increasing the possibility of serious injury in a violent, collision sport.

"We've been lucky," admits Mitz, who has had only one case of concussion in the last two years.

But they insist the percentage of concussionhead trauma or serious injury is reduced significantly by proper teaching of blocking and tackling techniques, purchase of the safest equipment on the market, reconditioning and re-certifying used equipment as well as conducting fewer contact drills and more controlled scrimmages.

Lenti, who has coached for 28 years, also advocates the use of form-fitted mouth guards designed by a dental company that has partnered with former Mount Carmel, Illinois and Pittsburgh Steelers standout Matt Cushing.

"We encourage our kids to invest in the form-fitted mouth guard," Lenti said. "Something that gets missed in all of the safety issues is having a good mouthpiece is important. A hit on the side of the jaw or under the chin causes shock to the brain as well as a hit to the helmet. This mouth guard helps the jaw absorb contact."

Mosel, a 30-year coaching veteran, has his players involved in an impact testing program, Baseline, which is affiliated with Ingalls Hospital in Harvey. In fact, all athletes in all sports at Thornton have their brain activities monitored by team trainers and team doctors through the program.

Baseline concussion testing is mandatory in many football and hockey programs across the country, from elementary schools to the pros. Such testing provides a baseline score of an athlete's attention span, working memory and reaction time. If the athlete suffers a concussion, he retakes the test. If there is a large decrease in the post-concussion score, the athlete is benched until the score increases.

"If we suspect a concussion, the information is available," Mosel said. "They can tell right away if anything is amiss. It is a preventative measure. It allows us to know what is going on."

"No one is sure about the percentage of athletes who have head issues. In the past, did we do a good job of educating athletes as to the symptoms? What is the percentage of all high school football players in the nation who get concussions? I'd like to know that statistic."

In the wake of the recent controversy that has surfaced over the DuersonSeau issues, the coaches claim parents haven't voiced concern wondering if they should prohibit their sons from participating in football because they fear for their safety.

"Always rule No. 1 is 'safety first,'" Lenti said. "We have always insisted that we have the best head gear money can buy. If a youngster breaks his collarbone because of a shoulder pad, that's one thing. But a head injury is something else."

Mitz, who has been coaching for 32 years, said the coaching staff and the trainers talk to parents in the preseason, educating them about concussions and other injuries.

"There is always a fear factor," Mitz said. "You always worry about your kids. God forbid you have to deal with a head injury. That's the terrible part of the game."

In his coast-to-coast travels to evaluate the nation's top football prospects, Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network said some parents are concerned but the athletes aren't.

"Not much will be done until someone dies, sad to say," Lemming said. "It has to start with the NFL. Colleges take their cue from the NFL and high schools take their cue from the colleges. There is a lot of talk but not much action.

"It reminds me of smokers. When the U.S. government finally said smoking caused cancer, something was done. At this time, the NFL says there is no proof that there are more concussions or brain damage. But it is obvious to anyone who monitors the game that players are getting bigger and stronger and faster and causing more head injuries with head-on collisions than 20 years ago."

While observing high school games from the sideline, Lemming said he sees many bone-jarring collisions.

"But the difference between high school and college is enormous with the speed and size and strength. It is scary when they collide head-on," he said.

"Officials have to change the game a little bit. Players should be suspended for one game for a head-on collision. All the rules are established to protect the quarterback, the most vulnerable position in football, but officials have to look at the safety of the game as a whole."

Brucker, who has been coaching for 40 years, and the others don't want to make light of a serious issue. They admit from time to time that they observe some coaches who teach defensive backs to dive at opponents' legs, increasing the chance of a knee striking the helmet and causing serious head injury.

But, to a man, they argue that the issue is blown out of proportion, that the media has chosen to sensationalize some stories, that it isn't a serious problem at the high school level and that spearing or using the head as a weapon isn't as much in vogue as it once was.

"Some people are over-reacting," Andriano said. "Look at all the kids who have played high school football. How many are injured? Teaching proper blocking and tackling techniques and making sure you are doing things the right way is what is most important. If a kid doesn't do the right technique, he is asking for trouble. Coaches need to be more precautionary and look different ways, like impact testing, to put people's minds at ease."

Brucker said: "These things may have happened back in the day and you might not have heard about them. When a kid suffered a sprained ankle, you just taped him up and he went out and played. Now you put a boot on his ankle and he's out for a month."

"What makes you question your practices, how you conduct your program, is you wonder if this is where it all begins," Mosel said. "I equate it to boxing. It isn't just one punch that triggers the head trauma problem but a combination of things. We were cautious before but we are more cautious now.

"The game will change but the game has always evolved. No one is sure about the percentage of athletes who have head issues. In the past, did we do a good job of educating athletes as to the symptoms? It isn't a badge of courage to hide things. When I started, it was common practice to scrimmage from start to finish. Now I worry about the number of contacts and blows to the head in a given day."

Net rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

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Net rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Hottovy on the pitching staff and Szczur’s aspiring art career

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Hottovy on the pitching staff and Szczur’s aspiring art career

On this episode of the CubsTalk podcast, we catch up with new Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy in Las Vegas (1:00). Hottovy discusses his relationships with the current Cubs staff, his biggest challenge in 2019, and his quick transition from playing to coaching.

Later, Luke Stuckmeyer speaks with former Cub and 2016 World Series Champion Matt Szczur, whose painting of the final out from the 2016 World Series is catching eyes all over the internet (15:50). Szczur also details his role in helping Anthony Rizzo get going in the 2016 NLCS, and how he keeps in touch with all his former teammates.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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