How sports injuries have changed high school practices
Concussions, Tommy John surgery, ACL tears...All have plagued athletes from the pro's all the way down to youth sports. In part-three of our Friday series on high school sports we find out how injuries have re-shaped practices.
Former Toms River East football player Nico Steriti, who battled multiple injuries, says in high school, not playing was usually out of the question.
He said he had the mentality of, "I had to be out there now, there's crowds out there, there's people, I want to go to the NFL...all these things...everything you've built up your whole life," Steriti said.
Red Bank Catholic football coach Frank Edgerly, who also served as a scout with the NFL's New England Patriots and a coach with the Cleveland Browns in between stints at RBC, says many athletes fear less playing time means a lesser chance at a college scholarship.
He adds that they try and hide the pain from the coach and trainer.
"There's some obvious things you see as a coach you have to handle but there's a lot of stuff, (where the coach speaks to the athlete and says), 'I can't tell you how you feel, the trainer can't tell you how you feel,' " Edgerly said. "I think part of the driving force behind it is you're always going to have that kid or two that are so tough that no matter what...you've got to save them from themselves because they're going to do whatever they have to and say whatever they have to to stay on the field."
"I think what tends to be an overriding factor here is a lot of these kids have pressure put on themselves or externally at home from mom and dad about at the high school level giving them the opportunity to play at college for a scholarship or whatever it may be," Edgerly said. "Kids now begin to think, 'well, if I'm not on the field or I miss extended time even though it's the right thing, I'm going to hurt my chances' (at a scholarship)."
Some athletes in extreme cases, like James "Boobie" Miles, the real athlete portrayed below in the movie 'Friday Night Lights', severely injured his knee but refused to take not playing for an answer. When he went back on to the field too soon and without surgery, he made the injury even worse and never played another down in high school.
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(Video courtesy of 'Movieclips')
Practice rules have changed over recent years to prevent more students from injuring themselves.
Edgerly says it also created a slippery slope.
"There's less and less contact going on during the week and you're only allowed 14-padded practices during the course of the season," Edgerly said. "It's not just making sure you're designing drills in practice to ensure (safety) but at the same time, what are you doing to ensure their safety for Friday night, Saturday or Sunday?"
He says it has a carry over affect on game night as well with guys hitting for the first time at the game and that can cause injury then as well because haven't hit enough during the week beforehand.
"You have a lot of coaches walking off the field on Friday night, or Saturday or Sunday and complaining that, 'hey, you know what, we just weren't physical today'," Edgerly said. "Well, if you can't practice being physical, it's very, very hard to show up on a Friday night and expect to see a physical performance."
Major injuries like concussions, shoulder and leg injuries have made some athletes ponder playing through it or sitting out.
Steriti says you're constantly sacrificing your body every-time you play, so you need to take care of it.
"You've got to toughen up and have a strong mind and persevere through things," Steriti said. "When the body is speaking a language that creates a headache, you've got to listen to it."
He doesn't discourage anyone from playing sports but at the end of the day, he says you need to be more mindful of the toll they can have on your body.
Which athletic surface is safer to play on in high school, artificial turf or natural grass?.
While the answer is unclear, Edgerly says most players from the pro's on down prefer to play on grass.
"We know at the end of the day the turf looks prettier on TV and the maintenance is a lot better. Why? Because you don't have to cut it. I understand that piece of the puzzle but some turf is better than others," Edgerly said.
He adds that in other cases artificial turf fields are soft and well maintained while natural grass fields are poorly maintained.
Grass fields tend to harden in the cold of winter, while turf remains soft year round.
Again, it all comes down to how both types of fields are maintained by school officials that can cut down on the amount of injuries such as sprained ankles in a ditch on the field.
Turf fields become extremely hot during the summer months, while grass fields if not maintained properly can flood easily at any time of the year.
There's definitely an issue with players getting injured and it needs to be resolved soon.
***In Part-Four of our High School Sports Series next Friday, two former athletes look back at their careers and discuss if they'd do anything differently.
More from our series on High School Sports: