Report: Comparing the number of head injuries in high school football programs

It’s part of the strides being made to better prevent and report student concussions, with the goal of keeping our children safe.

Last month, we told you about a new study by the University of Hawaii that counted 613 head injuries among high school athletes last semester, and 321 of those were in football.

The report also broke down the numbers by school and Mililani was at the top of the list with 41. Kaiser, Nanakuli and Waipahu was near the bottom with only three head injuries.

So why the big difference? We reached out to those in the know: An athletic trainer who took part in the study, a high school football coach, and a former player who’s now a high school football analyst and host of a radio show on sports injuries.

Our inquiry began with phone calls to Mililani head football coach Rod York. But after multiple calls with no response– we had to look elsewhere.

So we spoke with sports radio analyst Mark Veneri. He said he thinks there are two reasons for the disparity: “One, there’s numbers. Mililani turns out a big number of football players each year.” The Trojans won the Division I state championship, and had about 130 players on both of their varsity and JV teams last season.

Secondly, Veneri says “they play safely, but they’re very physical. You can tell in the manner that they play, so maybe they’re more susceptible to potentially getting a concussion because of the style of play.”

But is there more to it than that? We went straight to the source: An athletic trainer who helped put together that University of Hawaii report, Ross Oshiro of Queen’s Medical Center Sports Medicine.

“Some kids don’t want to report for a number of reasons,” he said. “That could be a reason why one school is lower than the other.”

The UH Report is the first to break down the concussion numbers by school. “One school could have a lot of injuries one year, and then the next year, very few,” Oshiro said.

We then turned our attention to the schools with the lowest concussion numbers, among them, Kaiser High School. Head football coach Arnold Martinez tells us there could be a number of reasons why its numbers were low, like the style of instruction.

“I tell my kids, ‘I don’t wanna come to the hospital, but I will. I’ll be there every day with you,'” he said. “‘But I don’t wanna be there because you’re did something I told you not to do, either. Do it this way, so we keep you out of this situation.'”

The number of players in Kaiser’s football program was much smaller than Mililani’s: We counted 78 varsity and JV players on its roster.

Martinez tells us he focuses on player safety, emphasizing what’s called “shoulder fit tackling.”

He also says high school football is now approached differently than when he played in the mid ’80s. “You had to be a hitter to get on the field, someone who took other people out. That’s the way the game was in the past. But it’s archaic now, that’s gone.”

So what happens next? How will the information in the report be used to protect children? We’re told more research for starters. The state could spend another $450,000, this time looking at sports outside of the fall season. We’ll be following up and let you know if that happens, and what researchers find this time around.

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