"A good friend of mine had a concussion and then he got his head hit again, and pretty much, like, just changed his entire life. He couldn't even attend school here anymore," said Justin Posthuma, a quarterback for St. Francis High School's football team.
There is no doubt that these guys love football, yet Posthuma and other young athletes are aware of the risk of head injury when playing contact sports.
"Freshman year, I had a minor concussion and then off the field, I got another incident, I got hit in the head again and that gave me secondary impact syndrome," said Copper Ulrich, who plays defensive end for St. Francis' team.
Secondary impact syndrome can cause severe loss of memory, brain damage, coma and even death.
"Sometimes it is one distinct hit, one distinct blow. But other times you go back and you look at the film and you can't find one distinct hit. It's sometimes just multiple hits that just kind of progress, progress, progress and lead up to a concussion or secondary impact syndrome," explained Eli Hallak, an athletic trainer and emergency medical technician.
Hallak says this is particularly challenging because many schools lack a qualified athletic trainer who has the education to diagnose injuries that cause headaches, dizziness, ear or vision problems. In addition, many athletes aren't paying attention either.
"There might be a personal trainer that's done a weekend course, they might be a young man or woman who has done a first aid CPR class and now calling themselves an athletic trainer," said Hallak.
Trainers like Hallak have a university degree in this field.
Yet California is one of only three states where there is no regulation of athletic trainers, so injuries often go undiagnosed.
"The coach isn't educated in recognizing, evaluating and treating concussions. That's not his job," added Hallak.
Not only that, but certain sports encourage bravado.
"Football is a sport nowadays where they preach toughness all the time, and if you get hurt you're not supposed to show it," said Posthuma.
Parents rely on coaches and trainers to do their job, but it is just as important for parents to be familiar with their child's performance at practice and games because more often than not, kids won't report an injury because they want to continue to play.
"He (Hallak) had to tell my parents actually. I wanted to play so I didn't want to tell anybody," admited Ulrich.
Protective gear isn't enough. Hallak wants parents to have continual dialog with their kids and get to know their athletic trainer in order to them safe.
Articles pertaining to secondary impact syndrome:
- Article: Football player died of second impact syndrome
- Article: Kids competing too soon after concussions
- Article: High school football player dies
- Article: Football player dies from brain hemorrhage
Information about certifying athletic trainers: