By Briana Panetta and Aleeza Kazmi
Joe Crima has broken his hand, fractured his back, sprained both his ankles multiple times and suffered from a concussion this past season all while playing football. None of these injuries stood in the way of the Kings Park High School football senior from pursuing what he loves to do. But that’s not the case for all high school football players on Long Island.
Since the 2009-2010 school year, there are 2,347 fewer boys playing high school football on Long Island, nearly a 15% decrease, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
“I think it’s because parents are scared of their kids getting hurt,” Joe Betz, sophomore football player at St. Anthony’s High School said. “It doesn’t really surprise me, there’s a risk of getting hurt for no reason because not too many people from Long Island go to professional football or even a division one college.”
Football claimed the life of a Sachem East High School student in August. Joshua Mileto died when he was hit in the head by a 400-pound log being used during a military-style summer conditioning drill.
“Everyone’s always talking about the concussions, the dangers of playing football, the head injuries and things like that, but nobody ever asked ‘what are you doing to address this situation?’” Patrick Pizzarelli, Executive Director of the Nassau County Section of The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), asked. “But we are addressing that. We are trying to make football a safer game so kids won’t be putting themselves at injury.”
The Nassau County high school football playoff semifinals start this Thursday at Hofstra University. At every game there will be a certified athletic trainer in the booth with binoculars watching the game looking for any child with a potential head injury, Pizzarelli said. Players suspected of being injured will get pulled out for an assessment.
As of last year, every high school and middle school coach in Nassau County is required by Section XIII to have Heads Up Football, a program developed by USA Football to increase players’ safety by teaching tackling and blocking techniques, concussion recognition, coaching education and more. Nassau and Suffolk County coaches are also required by the NYSPHSAA to follow the Tommy Tough Football Standards, a program created to increase awareness of head injuries following the death of Tommy Cutinella during a 2014 high school football game in Elwood.
“If football players do have a problem or injury or pain they should not hold that to themselves,” John Higgins sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said. “Sometimes the really stellar coaches might tell them no pain no game, you got to be a man. If someone is injured and they do continue to play on it could get a lot worse.”
A study published in July found chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the brains of 21 percent of high school football players that were studied. CTE is caused by head trauma and leads to dementia, memory loss, and suicidal thoughts among other symptoms.
“You never know when an injury can or will occur so it’s hard to prevent them,” Crima said.