Discussions surrounding brain trauma and the future of football typically focus on the National Football League, which has fewer than 2,000 players on active rosters. Meanwhile, more than 1 million teenagers play high school football every year.

Football-induced brain damage is not just an NFL problem.

With researchers just beginning to quantify football’s impact on the brain, the Times-Dispatch will examine the potential short- and long-term effects of brain injury for high school football players, and how those effects are discussed and handled in Richmond-area high schools.

Stories

Jalen Jackson lead art

Jalen Jackson suffered a concussion during the final game of his junior season. He chose to go back into the game, and though he didn't know it at the time, he was risking catastrophic injury.

High school football players think about and respond to brain trauma in a variety of ways — some are walking away from the game, while others continue to play through brain injuries.


Brain scans

The above scans represent the presence of tau proteins, the primary markers of CTE, in a healthy brain (left), a brain with mild CTE (middle) and a brain with severe CTE.

The risks of high school football on players' brains goes far beyond concussions, with the leading edge of research suggesting CTE and bleeding in the brain are both potential risks.


20171022_SPO_CONCUSS_SL

Rob Welch, student activities director at Henrico High School, spent the past 10 years as the school's athletic trainer. During that time, he had to make decisions about whether to discuss with his players the possibility of CTE and other brain injuries. 

Though concussion education is similar in all Richmond-area high schools, the topics of CTE and other potential brain injuries are discussed at the discretion of individual athletic trainers.


Theakston

Davis Theakston, tackling coach at St. Christopher's, guides Jackson Turley (left) and Carter Davis in a tackling drill as he works to implement the rugby style of tackling at the school. 

A new tackling technique has become a widespread method for concussion prevention for Richmond-area high school football teams, while equipment innovations are trying to help minimize head injuries as well.


Jacob Williams

Jacob Williams, a junior at Deep Run, stopped playing football after a concussion during his freshman season caused him to feel symptoms for eight weeks. He is not the only local player to hang up his football cleats after a severe concussion.

Currently, more questions than answers exist surrounding the long-term risks that high school football can have on its players' brains. Local researchers are trying to answer some of those questions.

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