CTE Becomes More Prevalent in Teens



Some sports helmets- on left a ski helmet, on the right is a paraglider helmet.

Samantha Grunden, Reporter

Watching from the sidelines, anyone can see the impact in school sports. In football, lacrosse, and even soccer, kids of all ages experience major impacts with other players and even objects. A lot of student athletes might remember taking impact testing at the beginning of their athletic season. Some believe it’s tedious and unnecessary. However, knowing whether you have a concussion or not can save your life. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, according to the Boston University CTE Center. Repeated concussions can result in CTE and other physical and mental disorders. This is why many students and parents are worried about the lack of helmets and safety equipment in some high school sports. At West Springfield High School (WSHS), a few teachers and enthusiastic students are creating prototypes for helmets designed to lessen the impact in high school volleyball.

The idea for the helmet project was taking a “real world problem to create a helmet for an impact sport that does not normally require helmets,” said Mr. Bernard, science teacher at WSHS. The group of students are 9th and 10th graders involved in the Pathways to Prosperity program. Teachers involved in this research are Mr. Bernard, Ms. (Maureen) Moynihan, Mr. Scott and Mr. Carter. After brainstorming, and doing research, the group of P2P students tried to protect eggs. As Mr. Carter, the P2P director explained, “students were given a list of materials to construct a prototype “helmet” to fit a hardboiled egg. That egg had to be secured into the prototype and ultimately dropped by approximately 15 feet to the ground. The goal for each group is to have the egg land without any damage to the egg.” Mr. Bernard explained when he was a boy there were no helmets required for riding bikes and no seat belts required when in a car. This illustrates how sometimes safety precautions take more time to adapt in society.

Sports such as football, horseback riding, boys lacrosse and wrestling all require special helmets to prevent injury upon impact. However when when it comes to impact in cheerleading, soccer, girls lacrosse, volleyball, etc, there aren’t any requirements for helmets. For cheerleading, some may say the performance aspect of cheerleading is about looking your best. “Unfortunately, the social pressures of high school are so great that it seems that many students act against their own self interests everyday for the benefit of fitting in or being accepted,” said Psychology and History teacher at WSHS, Mr. Stevens. “The culture of sports is so strong at WSHS that I don’t think many students even give their long term health a second thought when considering their personal well being,” he continued to explain. There have been many prototypes for safety helmets in high school sports but maybe the students won’t wear them just to “fit in”. Cheerleaders are warned about the dangers of falling from a sometimes six foot tall stunt. “I think I would [wear a helmet] during practices but during games and competitions I don’t think I would,” said Mia Sbalbi, a WSHS cheerleader, “we aren’t taken seriously as it is.” These girls are under extreme pressure to perform well. The pressure can lead to mistakes, especially on the hard track surface they perform on at football games, or hardwood gym floors when performing for the basketball season.

For some athletes they want to have helmets, but believe they can do more harm than help. “If you had a helmet sometimes half the stuff we do wouldn’t be accomplished,” said Alexis Barrett, a varsity cheerleader at WSHS. This is a reason why many feel that specialty equipment should be designed for every high school sport. Cheerleading is extremely dangerous if not taken seriously but that danger could be less concerning if participants were able to wear safety equipment.  “Look at the NFL and NHL in the mid-1950s, no helmets. Once helmets proved to lessen injuries, the athletes had to adjust to the weight and visual obstructions of the helmets. However, they were safer to some extent,” stated Mr. Carter. Even though a sport may not have a helmet now, in worry of it obscuring your abilities to perform, overtime athletes might realize the dangers of not wearing one and learn to play the sport with more protective gear.

CTE is mostly common in football. In fact, “Even the brains of young

adults who had only played high-school football showed mild cases of the disease” according to the article “How Students’ Brains Are in Danger on the Field” by The Atlantic. Many students on the WSHS football team can be in danger of the disease. Even when wearing a helmet, the repeated blows from the other team are still accounted for.  “It’s not necessarily car crash level head injuries that cause these issues. The repeated, low grade, ‘micro-concussions’ are just as dangerous,” explained Mr. Stevens. Kids as young as the age of 15 can be developing this lifelong disease. CTE does not only affect brain cells and clumps of the brain but also cause extreme personality changes. In most popular cases such as famous NFL players there is evidence of memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and eventually progressive dementia. However not many were educated on concussions or what they can do to a brain before.

However, all of this knowledge from CTE patients and NFL lawsuits has caused many coaches and parents to know more about concussions. When coaches and parents notice the signs of concussions they can get their child tested earlier. Impact testing and more safety precautions take a place in sports. In fact, “After what happened to me, safety has become even more of a concern,” stated Sbalbi. In her last season of cheer at WSHS she fell out of a stunt and landed on her arm, breaking her humerus bone. She went on to explain her team is well aware of the consequences and how to perform safely. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated day to talk about safety precautions or injuries that can occur in most of the high schools sports provided. The concern for safety in developing brains is on the rise. More schools will definitely become more concerned when student’s parents start to notice the long term consequences in high school sport players.