FORT WAYNE —
Austen Cummings sits in class and can’t remember what he’s supposed to focus on.
He doesn’t have a learning disability or an attention disorder. The Homestead High School sophomore suffered two concussions in the span of two months while playing football. The concussions have caused Cummings to blank out in class, at times for almost a half-hour.
“I’ll sit there for 20 minutes and realize ‘what am I supposed to be doing?’” Cummings said. “Those are the moments when I start to freak out about if I get another one.”
Precise numbers are hard to come by, but estimates considered reliable by those who treat sports trauma suggest between 43,000 and 67,000 high school football players in the United States are diagnosed with a concussion each year.
Concussion numbers may reach more than 130,000 when accounting for both diagnosed and undiagnosed cases, according to the Journal of Neurotrauma. A separate study by the Journal of Athletic Training revealed that about 53 percent of high school football players don’t report concussion-like symptoms.
The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill two years ago designed to better protect young athletes. In the next session that begins in January, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, plans to offer a bill to do even more.
But even those measures can’t protect athletes unless the players, coaches and parents work together to change a culture that celebrates hard contact and those who continue to play while hurt, health experts say.
The national conversation over the health of athletes was fueled by the NFL settlement in August, when the league agreed to pay a total $765 million to more than 4,500 former players. The deal provides benefits and compensation for players who developed brain-related health problems caused from football contact.
State-level data on football concussions can be difficult to find. The Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana Medical Association, Indiana Department of Education and Indiana High School Athletic Association do not record the number of concussions that occur in Indiana’s high school athletics, officials said.
“It is virtually an impossible task to track every concussive event, determine whether a concussion was actually sustained by the athlete, then record it in some fashion,” IHSAA Commissioner Bob Cox said.
Even without exact numbers, some say more needs to be done to protect young athletes.
In next year’s session, Holdman is sponsoring SB 372, which would require football coaches at the youth level to be certified in recognizing concussion symptoms and to know how to handle a child with a suspected concussion.
“The problem we have in Indiana is when you try to enforce the protocol at every level, you have to have a government agency or entity that is subject to the legislature to enforce the rule,” Holdman said. “With the concussion protocol the past two years, we can only control what is overseen by the IHSAA.”
Once a player is suspected of having a head injury, he or she must pass a battery of tests in accordance with the IHSAA protocol to re-enter the game.
IHSAA protocol states: “Any athlete who exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion (such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion, or balance problems) shall be immediately removed from the contest and shall not return to play until cleared by an appropriate health care professional.”
If an athlete is diagnosed with a concussion, IHSAA protocol requires the person to sit out until receiving a written clearance, which is also requited by the Indiana law passed in July 2012.
The clearance must come from a licensed health-care provider who is trained at evaluating concussions and head injuries.
“The way the Indiana law is written, it is possible to have a same-day return,” said John Doherty, Munster Community Hospital concussion clinic director and Munster High School athletic trainer. “They’re trying to fix and expand that law now.”
Holdman’s law would require coaches who use taxpayer-funded facilities to be certified through USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” program. USA Football is a nonprofit educational and training program for youth football, supported by the NFL.
If Holdman’s bill passes, Indiana would become the first state to require coaches to be certified through USA Football. The certification would train coaches to teach their players how to prevent injuries.
“Parents that sign kids up [for sports] are given warnings that I feel are adequate,” Doherty said. “If you think that you’re going to play football and there’s no risk of serious injury, you’re fooling yourself.”
Cummings, 16, plays on Homestead’s offensive and defensive line and suffered his first concussion came at a football camp last summer.
The most recent one came at a practice on Aug. 14. Cummings ran downfield when he was blindsided by a teammate during a drill and was knocked out.
“They took me off the field and ran me through some tests,” he said.
“They look at your pupils, see how sound and light affects you. They check for dizziness and ask a few questions like what’s the date and where you’re at. They give you three words to remember and they come back like 10 minutes later and you have to repeat the three words.”
Cummings was out three weeks after suffering his second concussion. This time he and his mother, Brooke Haver, were more prepared to handle it. After his first concussion, Cummings waited a week before telling his mother about the injury. His second was diagnosed immediately, which enabled him to undergo rehabilitation right away.
His headaches and inability to focus in class continued to stress him out, and he missed several days of school. His grades slipped and he nearly flunked off the football team. At home, he spent most of his time in his room watching Harry Potter movies.
“He wasn’t his normal self after when he was at home,” Haver said. “He’s usually pretty active and he would only engage in things that were non-stimuli.”
His family spent about $3,500 on tests that Cummings had to undergo following his second concussion, his mother said.
Homestead football head coach Chad Zolman understands the serious nature of concussions and remains cautious with players even after medical clearance.
“We assume the doctor knows what he’s talking about, but we don’t want to put him back in blindly,” Zolman said. “We have to be careful not to put him back in too soon.”
Cummings’ desire to play is alive, but he can’t help buy worry about his future if he gets another concussion.
“It does worry me, especially when I read about what it can do later in life,” he said.
“There are some people that go on to be fine, but some people have serious long-term side effects. It worries me and I still feel like it could happen, but I go on trying not to think about it.”
D’Ambra, Henson and Mikesell are members of the Ball State Student Media.
FORT WAYNE —
Austen Cummings sits in class and can’t remember what he’s supposed to focus on.
- High School
Paris seeking finals berth tonight
The Paris Tigers may be the underdogs again tonight when they play at the Class 2A Springfield Super Sectional, or they may be the favorites. What’s already clear as the Illinois boys basketball tournaments for the smaller schools enter their final week is that rankings and reputation don’t matter, particularly to the Tigers.
Class 2A girls: Rick Risinger coaches Heritage to fifth state title
Rick Risinger spoke this past week about defense being the key to securing a win against a talented Fort Wayne Canterbury girls basketball squad in the Class 2A state championship game.
Coach Risinger’s Heritage Christian squad rose to the occasion Saturday in Hulman Center, holding the Cavaliers to 33-percent shooting to claim the school’s fifth state title since joining the IHSAA in 2003.
The Eagles won their first title since 2009 by a score of 64-61.
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Oregon-Davis jumped out to a 15-2 lead when senior Alicia McIntosh drilled a 3-pointer in Saturday’s Class A state championship for girls high school basketball.
The Bobcats stretched that lead to as large as 17 before halftime, and still led by double figures with three minutes remaining.
Class 3A girls: Western over Evansville Mater Dei 38-35
Like Fort Wayne Canterbury in the Class 2A championship, two-time defending Class 2A champion Evansville Mater Dei found the going much more tough when moving up one class due to the IHSAA’s “Team Success Factor” legislation.
Mater Dei (26-2), which had an average margin of victory of 27 points throughout the season, struggled against Western’s 2-3 zone all night long in falling to the Panthers 38-35.
Class 4A girls: Bedford North Lawrence wins second straight title
Damon Bailey guided Bedford North Lawrence to a second straight state championship in his first year as head coach.
Bailey, an assistant on the Stars’ unbeaten Class 4A champions in 2013, watched his team hold off a scrappy Penn squad for a 51-41 victory Saturday night.
Central Catholic rallies to defeat Rockville
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Damon Bailey among coaches directing daughters at Hulman Center on Saturday
Father-daughter bonding was among the themes Saturday at Hulman Center as Terre Haute played host to the IHSAA girls basketball state finals for a third straight year.
Class 4A title favorite Bedford North Lawrence looked to repeat as champions late Saturday night. Former BNL state champion and Indiana Hoosier great Damon Bailey led his Stars into the game with a pair of daughters on the court. Junior Alexa Bailey, wearing No. 22 of course, is a Butler recruit and sophomore Loren is a reserve for the Stars.
Owen Valley, Edgewood in sectional final again
Things haven’t changed that much in the Class 3A boys basketball sectional. Northview was in the field for the first time and hosted the semifinals Friday night. But for the second year in a row, Edgewood and Owen Valley will play for the Sectional 28 championship tonight.
Temples’ 3-pointers help Paris advance
The prudent thing would have been to pull the basketball out, wait for an opponent to foul and run as much clock as possible in the final minute of the Illinois Class 2A Westville Sectional on Friday night. Audie Temples was thinking dagger.
Ailing Wilkey helps Rockville advance to title game
For part of Friday, doubt existed about whether flu-stricken Rockville standout Keiontre’ Wilkey would be able to play in the first semifinal game of the Class A North Vermillion Sectional for boys basketball. The junior guard gutted it out, however, and tallied 17 points to help lead the Rox over the host high school 61-53. That sent them into tonight’s sectional championship game against No. 7-ranked Lafayette Central Catholic.
Preps: Late free throws help Linton beat North Knox
Linton hit 4 of 5 free throws in the final minute and hung on to defeat streaking North Knox 47-46 in the semifinals of the Class 2A North Knox Sectional for boys high school basketball.
Former Terre Haute resident Rick Risinger looking for fifth state title in Hulman Center
An accomplished group of girls basketball coaches will make their way into Hulman Center on Saturday for the IHSAA state finals.
Damon Bailey, 1990 Mr. Basketball for state champion Bedford North Lawrence and former Indiana University great, is the most familiar name to Hoosier basketball fanatics. In his first year as a girls varsity coach, Bailey leads BNL into action in the 4A state championship game.
With 590 career wins, Fort Wayne Canterbury coach Wayne Kreiger is already a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Behind senior Miss Basketball candidate Maura Muensterman, Steve Goans leads Evansville Mater Dei into the Class 3A title game on the heels of consecutive 2A titles.
No answer: Spears scores 30 as Martinsvlle ends TH South’s season
Terre Haute South ran into a championship performance Wednesday night in Game 2 of the Class 4A Avon Sectional for boys high school basketball. Martinsville’s Troy Spears scored 30 points while leading the Artesians to a 65-44 victory that ended South’s season.
North falls to No. 5 Brownsburg in Class 4A Avon Sectional
Terre Haute North did not bow out of the boys high school basketball tournament Tuesday night like a team on a seven-game losing streak.
The Patriots executed their gameplan, battled back from a double-digit deficit and forced Class 4A No. 5-ranked Brownsburg to hit free throws to win the opener of the Class 4A Avon Sectional.
Brownsburg (19-2) hit six straight free throws in the final 1 minute, 15 seconds to hold off the Patriots 51-47.
Two sets of Eels win at WRV Sectional
There’ll be no Cinderella story in Dugger to end this boys high school basketball season, and a spirited upset bid also fell short Tuesday night at the Class A White River Valley Sectional.
Defensive pressure and depth made the difference in both games, as Eminence ended the Union season — perhaps its last, at least as a public school — by a 59-46 score and Clay City pulled away in the second half for a 53-44 win over Shakamak.
Paris knocks off 23-2 Clinton Central in overtime sectional thriller
Paris’ boys basketball team has learned a lot in a late-season run of success, but the one thing that set the Tigers apart on Tuesday in Class 2A Westville Sectional semifinal game was composure.
The Tigers never got rattled, never flinched and got the ultimate reward.
BOYS SECTIONAL ROUNDUP: Linton holds off Sullivan at North Knox
Linton and Eastern posted victories in the opening round of the North Knox Class 2A Sectional on Tuesday.
Linton led most of the way to defeat Sullivan 51-43 in the first game. Eastern Greene bested North Central 62-42 in the nightcap.
Linton is 16-6 and will take on North Knox and Eastern Greene faces South Knox in the semifinals on Friday. North Knox takes an 11-game winning streak into the action.
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With the hope that the obligatory snow is already on the ground, high school boys basketball sectionals begin today in Indiana, and for one Wabash Valley team in Illinois.
South swimmers fall short of lofty goals at state finals
Sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the destination.
That would best describe Terre Haute South’s performances Saturday in the 77th annual IHSAA boys swimming and diving state championships at the IU Natatorium.
Center Grove deals Terre Haute North 7th loss in row
Terre Haute North and Center Grove – two teams that haven’t won much lately – struggled to put the finishing touch against the other on Friday at North.
Prep roundup: Casey falls at Robinson Regional; Paris posts upset win at home
Teutopolis finished strong Friday night to defeat Casey 47-36 and win the Robinson Class 2A Regional for boys basketball teams.
Casey, Paris to play in regional title games
Championships of Illinois regional boys high school basketball tournaments will be decided tonight.
AMEY TAKES AIM: Bringing you the Amey Teams for girls basketball
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I wish some of our girls teams had been able to play longer for a purely selfish reason: that might have given me an opportunity to see one or two of their games.
South boys fall to Southport, finish regular season 8-14
Terre Haute South got an up-close look Thursday night at what a Conference Indiana championship boys basketball team looks like. And Southport is big and quick.
Southport, led by 6-foot-10 sophomore Joey Brunk and junior guard Malik Bennett overpowered South’s Braves 61-49 at Southport Fieldhouse. Brunk had 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Bennett scored 21 points.
VIDEO: Wilhelm leads South swimmers into state finals
Christian Wilhelm plans to compete in the distance freestyle when he gets to the University of Illinois-Chicago’s downtown campus.
Wilhelm emerged as a state qualifier in the 500-yard freestyle and 200 freestyle as a junior for Terre Haute South. But his senior season took a different turn and he’s hoping to make a big splash in a new event.
Casey advances to regional title game
Casey will be in the championship game of the Class 2A Robinson Regional for boys high school basketball teams Friday night. The Warriors gained their spot in the title tilt with a 55-42 victory over Marshall on Wednesday.
Cloverdale joins Pizza Hut Classic field
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Preps: Northview rallies past Linton in boys basketball
Ethan Whitson, Christian Ellis and Jim Mace tallied 19, 18 and 10 points respectively as host Northview overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Linton 62-57 in boys high school basketball Wednesday night.
- More High School Headlines
- Paris seeking finals berth tonight