Charlotte, N.C., School Tackles Football Concussions In many cities, high school games are a religion on Friday nights. But bone-crushing collisions have often led to injuries. One Charlotte, N.C., high school is tackling football concussions by outfitting players' helmets with high-tech sensors.
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Charlotte, N.C., School Tackles Football Concussions

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Charlotte, N.C., School Tackles Football Concussions

Charlotte, N.C., School Tackles Football Concussions

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

It's back to the gridiron for high school football teams, and a handful of them are trying out some new high-tech headgear. Hard hits and concussions are a big concern in football. Julie Rose of member-station WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina spent time with one of those teams.

JULIE ROSE: Do you worry about getting a concussion out there?

JAMIK DANIELS: No, ma'am. I go out loving the game, so I'm giving everything I've got.

ROSE: Wide receiver Jamik Daniels had better get used to questions about his head. He and the rest of the starting line at West Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte have new helmets with special sensors. During games and practices, a team of trainers on the sidelines monitors every single hit, which in Jamik Daniels' case is quite a few.

DANIELS: I get hit a lot because my position, I'm like known to go against a lot of linebackers. So I just hit everybody I can.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

ROSE: The National Federation of State High School Athletics Associations estimates at least 65,000 high school football players got a concussion last season. Many high schools now use computer-based tests to more accurately diagnose head injuries. A few, like West Meck, go further, with sensors in helmets to determine which players might be at risk. Dr. Laurie Grafton(ph) explains why.

LAURIE GRAFTON: The brain grows with time, and as kids they have more space that the brain can actually be rattled in. So that's why they tend to have more severe injuries than adults do.

ROSE: Grafton says few studies like this have been done at the high school level.

GRAFTON: It's basically a research tool to kind of follow these people who are getting these big hits and maybe monitoring them a little closer to see are they developing symptoms. It's kind of a new field that we're looking at.

ROSE: In today's practice, they're looking closely at one player who's taken a number of big hits.

SPENCER ELLIOT: I'm trying to find you a good one that we can see here. Here we go.

ROSE: Athletic trainer Spencer Elliot mans a laptop on the sidelines that snags a steady stream of data emanating from the players' helmets wirelessly. He points to a 3D image of a head with a halo of arrows. Each one is a separate impact.

ELLIOT: Basically on here you can see that this player has sustained about 16 impacts with a maximum of 41.7 Gs.

ROSE: So 41 Gs, can you put that in perspective for me?

ELLIOT: As far as 41 Gs, it's basically the equivalent of a - I'd say about a 20, 25-mile-an-hour car wreck.

ROSE: For coaches, Elliot says the helmet sensors take away the guesswork and the need for a player to admit he's not feeling right.

ELLIOT: Unfortunately, you know, it's breaking that stigmatism of getting your bell rung as part of the game, and it's not part of the game. It's actually a brain injury.

ROSE: Whether or not that message sinks into the players' heads, the sensors in their helmets will make it impossible for them to hide the next time they take a really hard hit. For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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