With the state’s high school football season set to kick off this week, here is a look at some of the steps taken to make the game safer.
For starters, a Connecticut law is now in place mandating concussion education for all student-athletes and parents at the high school level, along with informed consent signed by a parent prior to athletic participation. Also, any suspected concussion must be reported to a parent within 24 hours.
“If we’re supposed to take care of game and make it safe, and the kids that play the game, than there’s no question safety comes first,” said former Conard head coach Rob Cersosimo, who is now coaching under his son, Matt, at the school. “That will help the game of football. The rule changes, that’s for the betterment of the sport and the kids who play the sport. Their safety is No.1.”
Practice contact limits have also been restricted. Teams get a maximum of 120 minutes of full-contact practice during the preseason, 90 minutes from the start of the regular season through Thanksgiving and 60 minutes during the postseason.
There was no rule in place, previously. The consensus among coaches is that limiting contact during practice was an unwritten rule. It’s something they have already been doing. Now it’s just official. Notre Dame-West Haven coach Tom Marcucci did limit contact during the preseason more so than in previous years, which, he said, resulted in fewer injuries.
“The days where a player gets his bell rung and goes back into the game are long over,” Marcucci said. “This is something that needs to be taken very seriously. There is a protocol to follow and we follow it to the tee.”
Through the CIAC’s Connecticut Coaching Education Program, all coaches have to complete an extensive course on concussions and player safety. The CIAC is also raising awareness with its “Concussion Central” page on its website.
“The CIAC is making a major effort through the teaching element,” football committee chairman Leroy Williams said. “They’ve always had modules, but it’s more intensified now. Coaches are very receptive. Education is key.”
The CIAC will also track football injuries by requiring schools to report them into a database. The data will be reported by athletic trainers or qualified medical personnel.
The state’s playoff system for this season has undergone a makeover as well. There will be eight state champions, doubling that from last year. There will still be 32 teams, but the quarterfinal round, played the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, will be eliminated.
The reasoning? The new system allows a minimum of one week between each game, a strong recommendation of the state’s medical society.
This format will be short-lived, however.
Earlier this summer, the CIAC announced it would go back to its previous format and crown four state champions beginning in 2015. But that comes with stipulations. Full-contact practices will be eliminated after the ninth game and teams will be limited to 10 regular season games. Teams were allowed to play 11 regular season games last season and some, who reached a league and state final, played as many as 15 games.
Tom Dyer is the former football coach at Hillhouse and now the athletic director at Hamden. When coaching the Academics, he said, he reduced but did not eliminate contact after week nine.
“Right now, looking nationally, a lot of states are trying different things,” Dyer said. “People are trying to be proactive in helping student athletes. To me, I like playing the game and teaching basic skills, and tackling is a basic skill.”
Dennis O’Rourke was the head coach at Haddam-Killingworth for 37 years. He stepped down after last season.
Over the last few seasons he watched as the topic of concussions moved further and further to the forefront.
“It was coming gradually,” O’Rourke said. “We know a lot more about concussions than when I first started coaching. Coaches are more aware of the conditions and ramifications. Kids are aware, too. It’s obviously something for the better. We’re protecting kids.”
Editor’s note: The Register will periodically address issues related to concussions and player safety throughout the high school season.