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Growing Concern Over Concussions Among Youth Athletes

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Rob Johnson Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson is the weekday anchor of the CBS 2 Chicago evening...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The headlines about concussions are everywhere these days; soldiers suffering traumatic brain injuries linked to concussions, or the speculation that football star Junior Seau might have committed suicide after suffering from them.

But, when it comes to protecting young players, sports organizations are being forced to change the way they view these injuries.

CBS 2’s Rob Johnson and his family found that out first-hand.

“I got hit really hard, helmet to helmet,” said 12-year-old Nico Vittori of Naperville.

He suffered his second concussion, following a head shot playing football last fall, and his mother Nina has watched his long, difficult road to recovery.

“We kept him out the rest of the season, but the headaches never stopped. The foggy brain went away, but it was causing trouble with him at school,” said Nina Vittori.

Concussions are a new reality sports leagues have to deal with. The Chicagoland Youth Football League (TCYFL), a 400-team football league in 32 member communities, is run by Geoff Meyer, who requires coaches to be fully trained, and players not lead with their heads.

“Whether it’s my child, your child, all our children; we want them to have the best possible experience playing youth sports,” Meyer said.

But it calls for constant vigilance. For instance, one hit in a TCYFL football game was helmet to helmet, but the referee initially wasn’t going to call a penalty, until one of Meyer’s coaches insisted.

“It’s up to us — as coaches, and teachers, and educators — to teach them and correct the proper way to tackle and block,” said Meyer.

No matter what field or court or rink your child plays on, child psychiatrist Dr. Bennett Leventhal says the burden doesn’t just fall on the kids to play the game the right way.

“This looks like a problem of adults, not a problem of children. The adults haven’t corrected the behavior of the children; most likely parents, but possibly also coaches,” said Leventhal.

But raising awareness isn’t easy. When Johnson’s then 6-year-old son, Jaden, suffered a concussion after getting hit in a hockey game, the Chicago Hawks Hockey Club said it would take no action.

The Johnsons were referred to the state hockey board, Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI).

“We conducted our own investigation,” said board member Kevin Bolger.

Bolger instructed the club to better educate coaches, parents, and players; and he told the club that it and the player would be monitored until the end of the year.

Bolger said his goal is, “Whether we feel they were right or wrong is irrelevant. What we want to do, rather than just punish them, is educate them so that this doesn’t happen again”

Meantime AHAI and the TCYFL are working to modify the rules within their own leagues, to ensure headshots are outlawed, and the resulting concussions are minimized.

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