Friends don't let friends play hurt

Talk about sidelined! Even if the turf on Rebel Field in Evadale, Texas, dries sufficiently this evening after pounding rainfall, the stadium will remain silent from the bustle of the gridiron. That is because the scheduled battle between the Evadale Rebels and the Chester Yellowjackets has been canceled. In fact, the Yellowjackets’ remaining season has been canceled.

Football ended for Chester on Oct. 23 after what turned out to be their final game, which was against High Island. In that game, seven Yellowjacket players suffered season-ending injuries, according to the Beaumont Enterprise. With a student body of 58 attending Chester High School — located in a town of only 256 about 90 miles northeast of Houston — the football team is comprised of 20 of the 26 boys who attend classes there. Another student broke his foot the week before. You do the math.

Yes, the Yellowjackets could still field a team provided no one got hurt in the last two games. A team with a total squad of 12 also would not provide any rest for the weary. I can’t speak for the six Chester students who don’t play. Kids have all kinds of reasons why they don’t get into organized sports. The closest I got was as a varsity football and basketball equipment manager. Nevertheless, the coach decided it best to end the season while the school still had some able bodies for basketball season. That’s a joke, although I realize a bad one. The result was that the Yellowjackets forfeited its final two games.

The abrupt ending to the season may have left some kids and fans heartbroken but the coach’s decision was both without recourse and smart.

Canceling was smart because had more players suffered incapacitating injuries a whole raft of wrath might have been heaped upon the coach and administration’s head like players scrambling for a goal-line fumble. Society has become less tolerant with the idea of “playing hurt.” And with recent hearings about football brain injuries suffered by NFL players — the pros also being shown to influence youth football safety levels — the idea of “shaking off” an injury seems destined for such discredited medical practices as “bleeding” someone for various illnesses.

One must recognize the difference between traumatic brain injury as well as other potentially deadly and disabled syndromes related to concussions, and the normal broken bones and  dislocations which are common in high school football. Even concussions, or getting one’s “bell rung,” are not unusual. Two Chester players reportedly suffered concussions while the rest of the injuries along with a host of broken  bones and dislocations, according to Beaumont TV station KFDM. The Chester coach called the number of injuries incurred freak accidents.

But even orthopedic injuries these day in football at the high school level have been under scrutiny along with head injuries, all wrapped up under the category of sports safety.

A number of factors bring safety to the forefront of sports in general such as the size and athleticism of youth who workout on weights and some of whom take illicit steroids. Protective sports gear has also improved as has emergency medical care. Some notable cases, however,  exhibit tragic holes in protection from injuries.

The case of Will Benson is a particular example of gaps in safety.

Benson was a 17-year-old quarterback for St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin who died after suffering cerebral hemorrhage during a game in 2002. Benson collapsed and was looked at by the team’s trainer and doctor but no ambulance or emergency medical technicians were stationed on the scene. Problems with the ambulance finding and accessing the patient were reasons almost a half-hour elapsed between the time Benson collapsed and was rolled into emergency surgery.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Benson’s dad was able to convince Texas legislators that sports safety needed improvement and “Will’s Law” was passed among which provisions include a requirement of safety training for coaches and trainers.

I have to admit that I read about Will Benson’s tragic case for the first time today. I suppose I have become somewhat numb following news of kids dying from sports injuries. What shocks me most is that in 45 years of watching high school football I can’t remember seeing  a game that did not have an ambulance standing by. This was even the case back in the day when EMTs — which I was certified as for 10 years — was just another unknown acronym and funeral homes usually operated the ambulances. This is even in the smallest of East Texas towns in which I grew up.

The machismo of the still overwhelmingly male sport of football has long dictated toughness as a rite of passage. One must decide whether such concepts are all they’re made out to be. But as was emphasized in the macho profession of firefighting in which I was involved some five years one can’t help someone in need if you are unable to show up. Translation: Don’t drive like a bat out of hell and all crazy en route to an emergency.

If the logical extension is taken for football, you can’t play if you’re hurt really bad. That can be taken for what it’s worth if logic can be applied amongst the emotional world of football.