High School Sports

Sarah’s story brings home what’s at stake with concussions

Gary Schwab
Gary Schwab dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Like many parents, I became a soccer coach because my kids signed up to play, and the league needed help.

My girls have graduated from college now. I’m still coaching, and learning, more than 30 seasons later.

I’ve known concussion signs to watch for, but I never really understood what was at stake until I read the speech Sarah Carlton gave to her high school classmates. Sarah is the niece of Debby Wallace, the longtime administrator of the Charlotte Junior Soccer League where I coach, and Debby shared Sarah’s speech with me.

Lately, I’m seeing more concussions – two for my team in the spring, two already this fall. Experts don’t believe that concussions are increasing. We’re just more aware.

The benefits of sports outweigh the risks of serious injury. To help make athletes safer, sports culture needs to change: It’s not OK to play through the pain of a head injury. Coaches, parents, athletes – all are part of concussion awareness and proper response. In many places, that’s happened already. But there’s more to do.

Of the dozens of studies I read, this stuck with me: In 2012, 8 percent of coaches said they would let an athlete with concussion symptoms continue to play. That’s too many. But if it were a championship game? More than double, 18 to 20 percent, said they’d let a concussed athlete play.

Johna Register-Mihalik, concussion expert, says that when athletes and their parents share their concussion stories it raises awareness and helps them navigate the affects of concussions.