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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."

Anthony Rizzo takes in Cubs intrasquad game in Wrigley Field bleachers

Anthony Rizzo takes in Cubs intrasquad game in Wrigley Field bleachers

Anthony Rizzo missed Summer Camp on Thursday as he remains day-to-day with lower back tightness. However, the Cubs first baseman still found a way to take in the action.

Rizzo posted up in the left field bleachers during Thursday's game, which pitted Yu Darvish vs. Kyle Hendricks. He later moved to sit by the on-deck circle.

With no fans in attendance this season, MLB players will likely be stationed throughout ballpark seating throughout games to social distance. The Cubs obviously want to see Rizzo stationed at first base come the regular season, but it would be quite the sight if he or any Cubs get to sit out in the bleachers this year.

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Aaron Bummer praises White Sox in all aspects, ready for team to 'catch fire'

Aaron Bummer praises White Sox in all aspects, ready for team to 'catch fire'

Starting pitching. Relief pitching. Hitting.

Save defense, that about covers the ingredients necessary to be a well-rounded ball club, a team capable of winning a lot of games, a division title and potentially a World Series championship.

Are the White Sox that kind of team? Do they have all those necessary ingredients in the cupboard?

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It's going to take some time to find out whether that's the case or not, especially in this most unusual of seasons. Like any team — and any team on the rise, in particular; the last time these White Sox played regular-season baseball, they were wrapping up an 89-loss campaign — there are questions, some of them big. Can Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada still put up huge numbers if their good fortune from 2019 decreases? Will Luis Robert's jam-packed toolbox translate to instant major league mastery? And what the heck are the White Sox going to get out of Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón?

But if the team can receive positive answers to those questions and more, then things could be looking up fast. In a squeezed-down, 60-game season where a fast start is mandatory, those answers will need to come in a hurry.

Are they capable? They sure look it.

"We've got a lot of young guys that can catch fire," White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer said Thursday. "That's kind of what they always say, it's always catching fire at the right time. We've got a young group of guys mixed in with a whole bunch of veterans that have been there and done it.

"I'm excited to get everybody together, and hopefully we can ride that wave, hopefully we start out strong. A lot of people have said, you can break it down into three seasons: You're going to win 20, you're going to lose 20, what are you going to do with the other 20? Hopefully we're going to go out there, catch fire and win a whole bunch of games."

Winning a whole bunch of games is obviously every team's goal on the doorstep of the regular season. And truly, every team might be in the mix to do just that in this two-month dash to the postseason.

But the White Sox do appear well equipped, and the combination of young players who broke out in a big way last season and the veteran additions that Rick Hahn's front office made over the winter has the possibility to make them the most balanced group in a three-team race for the AL Central crown. The Minnesota Twins swing some serious sticks, and they added perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson to that already ferocious lineup. But will the pitching staff past José Berríos match the fear the offense strikes in opposing clubs? The Cleveland Indians might still have the best starting rotation in baseball, even after dealing away Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. But can their top-heavy lineup match the quality of their arms?

The White Sox boast a remade lineup, now featuring Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación, Nomar Mazara and Robert to go along with Moncada, Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and José Abreu. Bummer, a pitcher, sees plenty of reason his fellow hurlers should be scared.

"Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy," Bummer said, merely listing the trio he had to face in Thursday's intrasquad game, when he coughed up a parrot-producing homer to Encarnación. "It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."

The starting rotation has new faces, too, chiefly free-agent adds Dallas Keuchel and Gio González, two accomplished arms who have playoff experience. Match that with Lucas Giolito, fresh off an All-Star campaign, and the collection of talented, if not completely proven, young arms — the aforementioned Cease, López, Kopech and Rodón — and it's a deeper group than what the team was ready to break camp with in March.

"It's fun to watch those guys compete," Bummer said. "You see the pure stuff of Giolito, Cease and Rodón. It's pure ability, it's pure stuff. And then you have the veterans, Keuchel and Gio González, who have been there, done that, and they pitch. They go out there and they dominate with their ability to pitch. And even adding Lopey to the mix. Lopey's stuff is unbelievable.

"There's six guys out there right now, I'll roll with them over anybody. I'll roll with that starting rotation. They get as far into the games as possible, and hopefully the bullpen can go out and go save a bunch of wins for them."

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And then there's Bummer's unit, the bullpen, which was a strength for the White Sox last season. Bummer, Alex Colomé, Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero made for a dependable group of late-inning options, and that group's grown with the addition of Steve Cishek, who made so many high-leverage pitches for contending Cubs teams in recent seasons. Throw in a potential bounce-back candidate in Kelvin Herrera, and there's impressive depth here, too.

"It's exciting," Bummer said. "You add in Cishek, you add in a full season of the guys like Marshall, Jimmy Cordero, and there are a lot of guys out there. There are guys hungry for a nice bounce back between Kelvin and Jace (Fry). I think everybody's hungry to go out there and do their job.

"I would stack us up, I think we're seven or eight deep out there, to go out there and get competitive outs. As long as we keep ourselves in games, I think our bullpen is going to be a pretty good strength moving forward."

What else could the White Sox ask for?

Listing the roster doesn't win games, of course, but adding everything up, stacking all the positives up in one place, it's easy to see why this team could be capable of making some real noise, even in this strangest of seasons.

Hahn will point to the high volume of these guys who are under team control deep into the future, and his rebuilding effort has always targeted a contention window that gets propped open for years. That also looks possible.

All the White Sox need to do is open it. The postseason expectations that dominated the pre-shutdown era of 2020, from SoxFest in January through the abrupt end to spring training in mid March, showed how serious the White Sox are about doing that opening this year. And as Bummer and so many others on this team will tell you, the months-long layoff didn't change those expectations one bit.

The future, especially in this season, under these circumstances, is unpredictable. But no matter where you look on this roster, the White Sox look capable of grabbing that future by the horns.


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