University of South Carolina

USC conducts national youth football study

By Frenche Brewer, brewer4@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3691

It’s becoming regular headline news: Another ex-NFL athlete admits to suffering from early-stage dementia.

Most recently, it was Jim McMahon, former Chicago Bears quarterback, who blames his early-stage dementia on repeated concussions suffered during his 14-year career. McMahon said had he known then what he knows now, he would have chosen a different career.

It’s widely accepted that football can be a violent contact sport that can result in injuries ranging from concussions to broken limbs. Because of that risk of injury, there are some who question whether young children should participate in tackle football.

The University of South Carolina is participating in a national study that is taking a closer look at the types of injuries suffered by youth football players, and whether those injuries can have lasting effects. The study puts athletic trainers on youth football fields to treat and track injuries. It is being conducted by Datalys Center, a national sports injury research firm, which teamed with USA Football to track injury rates across youth football leagues, specifically Pop Warner football leagues, and recreation football programs in South Carolina.

Mark Osment is one parent who is glad the trainers are there. Osment’s 13-year-old son Hunter plays youth football for one of the Pop Warner youth football leagues in Columbia. At a practice in late August, a huddle of players landed on top of Hunter’s legs.  

“He was in obvious pain, screaming, crying, so we knew something seriously wrong. He said he had pain all the way down leg, couldn’t move his ankle. I took his sock off and saw the deformity,” said University of South Carolina athletic trainer and graduate student Jessica Koller.

Koller, who is one of the trainers taking part in the Datalys Center study, may have saved Hunter’s leg from permanent injury.

South Carolina is one of only seven states involved in the study, and USC is exclusively conducting the research for the state. Datalys Center provided a $32,000 grant to fund two athletic trainers who attend youth football practices and games to evaluate and treat injuries, and record the injury data.

Jim Mensch, USC athletic training program director, said the research firm is providing the tools to conduct the study.

“The Datalys Center provides software that we’re using that allows our athletic trainers to document injuries right then and there as they’re occurring,” Mensch said. “When you start documenting over a span of time in seven different states, now you have a dataset that enables you to say something about how big they were, how old they were, what league there were in, age, and weight category, and that’s what Datalys Center does.”

Osment said it was a relief to have the athletic trainer on the field.

“I think it’s a great idea. I personally think all youth sports should have it. It was a blessing…I have seen her do so many things I haven’t seen in the past,” Osment said.

Also working in Hunter’s favor was the system that Datalys Center and USC have in place, which runs like a well-oiled machine. Koller was on the field to take care of the athlete’s immediate needs. After stabilizing Hunter, Koller called orthopedic surgeon and USC team physician Dr. Jeffrey Guy to meet them at the hospital.

 “The nice thing about this program is not only are we looking at ways to intervene early, but are also studying the injuries themselves, and how often they occur,” Guy said.  “With this particular case, having a leg in such deformity, he may have lost covering of some of his legs, because of a piece of bone that was pushing on it for so long. Getting it back in anatomic position really helped him or he would have lost some skin.”

Meanwhile, Hunter, who had a total of five breaks in his left leg, and a fractured growth plate, returned to school six weeks later, and will soon be back on the field as offensive lineman.

The Datalys Center study runs through December.

Posted: 10/10/12 @ 6:00 AM | Updated: 10/11/12 @ 10:31 AM | Permalink