By Stefano Fendrich and Tate Smyth
The game was coming to a close as senior captain Graham Blondes looked up at the scoreboard, grasping the fact that his football team was about to lose for the last time on Senior Night. This year was supposed to be different; the county had expanded the playoff bracket, and the Barons football squad could have entered the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Instead, Blondes wears his number 74 for the last time and glances at the opposite side of the field, crowded with enough players to set up an entire defense, offense, and special teams, without using one player for more than one position. This is in contrast to the Baron’s sideline, which contains half the roster with players such as Henry Smith taking on four or five positions.
But why is there such a significant disparity in roster size between B-CC and schools like Quince Orchard and Richard Montgomery? Why have there not been legitimate tryouts, with cuts, for the football team in years? Why has resorting to walk-ons still not filled an entire roster? One hypothesis is that the overprotective Bethesda Parent has acted again, this time, concerned about the potential risk of their child sustaining a concussion.
Over the past few years at B-CC, there has been increased concern amongst families regarding the dangers of football. When Sophomore Fredrick Ryan discovered that the football team demanded more players due to the alarming lack of participation, he urged his parents to allow him to participate. His mother, Jeanene Liaro Ryan, though amused by this request, immediately told Fredrick that joining football would be “a definite no.” According to Mrs. Ryan, the reasoning for “never let[ting] her son play football” was because of “the amount of head-to-head hits there are. It is an amount of hits a teenager can’t take that could lead to serious injury in the future.” Mrs. Ryan reflects a larger voice of Bethesda mothers who feel this is a risk not worth taking. There is, additionally, little faith in the equipment used in the sport that also scares some parents. Mrs. Ryan views helmets to be inadequate in their attempt to prevent serious brain damage. In general, the head-to-head contact can scare parents, and the stories they hear about retired NFL players who have been proven to have CTE add to that worry.
CTE has become a commonly known consequence of excessive head trauma, and the facts about the dangers of football have become widely recognized by students and parents. At the 2019 American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, research was presented which demonstrated an alarming number of high school football players being diagnosed with concussions in the United States. These football-related concussions alone make up approximately six percent of all injuries to high school athletes. While this is already a significant amount, various studies that surveyed players themselves have revealed that around 50 percent of athletes have experienced concussion-like symptoms during their seasons. Considering the side effects concussions can have on the brain, including CTE, several B-CC parents are reluctant to permit their children to play for their high school football team and take these risks.
While many Baron football players acknowledge the risk of playing football, some claim that there is always a risk of injury with any sport. Junior Barons football player Nick Scott contends that “football is not, per se, a ‘dangerous sport’ as you can get hurt in almost any sport.” Scott, who has never been concussed in all his years playing football, believes that “as long as played correctly, the sport is safe.” Many of those participating in the sport don’t have great concern regarding head-trauma risk.
Within the last five years, football has made progress in its attempt to diminish the severity of these injuries. B-CC football head coach Benjamin Minturn says that, currently across football, at all levels, if a player gets a concussion, “they are put on the five-day concussion protocol, and can only return to play after getting doctor clearance.” He further points out that there is “new and improved technology and equipment and helmets that have made strides to make them safer.”
In addition to the advancements in equipment, there have recently been a plethora of rule changes enacted specifically with the goal of reducing helmet-to-helmet contact. Overall, these changes should improve the well-being and safety for the current team or any potential recruits previously concerned about joining the team.
Liz Smith, mother of Barons football junior Perry Smith, fully supports her son’s decision to play football. Smith says that his mom “understands that there is always possibility of concussions or other injuries happening,” but still supports his decision. Smith says that his mom is an active supporter of the football program and always helps out however she can. She always asks him to be careful when he plays and not make any ill-advised tackles that could result in bad injuries for either player involved. At the end of the day, Smith feels that since he has this support from his mom he is making a wise and good decision.
Even with the implementation of this new technology, Coach Minturn believes there is more that can be done to make Barons football safer. “It might be more safe to have kids play against schools that have the same skill and experience level, instead of just based on the size of the school.” Although it would be difficult to fully realize this idea, it could help to ensure the safety of B-CC players.
We all take the safety of our student athletes seriously. But is the overprotective Bethesda Parent taking it too far? Is it time for them to reevaluate their hesitation and give their kids a chance to contribute to a few more football victories on our new Guckeyson turf? Only time will tell.