High school coaches are aware of concussions

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High school coaches are aware of concussions

With all of the stories of head injuries being generated by professional football in recent months -- most notably the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau -- it was only natural that the controversial issue would trickle down to the high schools.

Veteran coaches Chris Andriano of Montini, Bill Mosel of Thornton, Bill Mitz of Jacobs, Ed Brucker of Marian Central and Frank Lenti of Mount Carmel have been aware of the concussion factor since helmets cost only 75 and coaches conducted three-a-days and didn't permit their players to drink water.

"The game has definitely changed," said Andriano, who has been coaching for 33 years. "We have never had a neck or spinal injury but we've had some concussions. But I can't think of any of our players who have had any kind of serious head problem over the last 30 years. We've always been very cautious and handled them the right way."

They concede the game is more physical than ever before, even at the high school level. And athletes are bigger, stronger and faster, thus increasing the possibility of serious injury in a violent, collision sport.

"We've been lucky," admits Mitz, who has had only one case of concussion in the last two years.

But they insist the percentage of concussionhead trauma or serious injury is reduced significantly by proper teaching of blocking and tackling techniques, purchase of the safest equipment on the market, reconditioning and re-certifying used equipment as well as conducting fewer contact drills and more controlled scrimmages.

Lenti, who has coached for 28 years, also advocates the use of form-fitted mouth guards designed by a dental company that has partnered with former Mount Carmel, Illinois and Pittsburgh Steelers standout Matt Cushing.

"We encourage our kids to invest in the form-fitted mouth guard," Lenti said. "Something that gets missed in all of the safety issues is having a good mouthpiece is important. A hit on the side of the jaw or under the chin causes shock to the brain as well as a hit to the helmet. This mouth guard helps the jaw absorb contact."

Mosel, a 30-year coaching veteran, has his players involved in an impact testing program, Baseline, which is affiliated with Ingalls Hospital in Harvey. In fact, all athletes in all sports at Thornton have their brain activities monitored by team trainers and team doctors through the program.

Baseline concussion testing is mandatory in many football and hockey programs across the country, from elementary schools to the pros. Such testing provides a baseline score of an athlete's attention span, working memory and reaction time. If the athlete suffers a concussion, he retakes the test. If there is a large decrease in the post-concussion score, the athlete is benched until the score increases.

"If we suspect a concussion, the information is available," Mosel said. "They can tell right away if anything is amiss. It is a preventative measure. It allows us to know what is going on."

"No one is sure about the percentage of athletes who have head issues. In the past, did we do a good job of educating athletes as to the symptoms? What is the percentage of all high school football players in the nation who get concussions? I'd like to know that statistic."

In the wake of the recent controversy that has surfaced over the DuersonSeau issues, the coaches claim parents haven't voiced concern wondering if they should prohibit their sons from participating in football because they fear for their safety.

"Always rule No. 1 is 'safety first,'" Lenti said. "We have always insisted that we have the best head gear money can buy. If a youngster breaks his collarbone because of a shoulder pad, that's one thing. But a head injury is something else."

Mitz, who has been coaching for 32 years, said the coaching staff and the trainers talk to parents in the preseason, educating them about concussions and other injuries.

"There is always a fear factor," Mitz said. "You always worry about your kids. God forbid you have to deal with a head injury. That's the terrible part of the game."

In his coast-to-coast travels to evaluate the nation's top football prospects, Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network said some parents are concerned but the athletes aren't.

"Not much will be done until someone dies, sad to say," Lemming said. "It has to start with the NFL. Colleges take their cue from the NFL and high schools take their cue from the colleges. There is a lot of talk but not much action.

"It reminds me of smokers. When the U.S. government finally said smoking caused cancer, something was done. At this time, the NFL says there is no proof that there are more concussions or brain damage. But it is obvious to anyone who monitors the game that players are getting bigger and stronger and faster and causing more head injuries with head-on collisions than 20 years ago."

While observing high school games from the sideline, Lemming said he sees many bone-jarring collisions.

"But the difference between high school and college is enormous with the speed and size and strength. It is scary when they collide head-on," he said.

"Officials have to change the game a little bit. Players should be suspended for one game for a head-on collision. All the rules are established to protect the quarterback, the most vulnerable position in football, but officials have to look at the safety of the game as a whole."

Brucker, who has been coaching for 40 years, and the others don't want to make light of a serious issue. They admit from time to time that they observe some coaches who teach defensive backs to dive at opponents' legs, increasing the chance of a knee striking the helmet and causing serious head injury.

But, to a man, they argue that the issue is blown out of proportion, that the media has chosen to sensationalize some stories, that it isn't a serious problem at the high school level and that spearing or using the head as a weapon isn't as much in vogue as it once was.

"Some people are over-reacting," Andriano said. "Look at all the kids who have played high school football. How many are injured? Teaching proper blocking and tackling techniques and making sure you are doing things the right way is what is most important. If a kid doesn't do the right technique, he is asking for trouble. Coaches need to be more precautionary and look different ways, like impact testing, to put people's minds at ease."

Brucker said: "These things may have happened back in the day and you might not have heard about them. When a kid suffered a sprained ankle, you just taped him up and he went out and played. Now you put a boot on his ankle and he's out for a month."

"What makes you question your practices, how you conduct your program, is you wonder if this is where it all begins," Mosel said. "I equate it to boxing. It isn't just one punch that triggers the head trauma problem but a combination of things. We were cautious before but we are more cautious now.

"The game will change but the game has always evolved. No one is sure about the percentage of athletes who have head issues. In the past, did we do a good job of educating athletes as to the symptoms? It isn't a badge of courage to hide things. When I started, it was common practice to scrimmage from start to finish. Now I worry about the number of contacts and blows to the head in a given day."

Watch: Kid imitates Patrick Kane's post-goal celly in youth hockey game

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Watch: Kid imitates Patrick Kane's post-goal celly in youth hockey game

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that young hockey players are patterning their games off Patrick Kane.

But the next generation of scorers are modeling their post-goal celebrations after the Blackhawks star, too.

Check out this video of a kid in a youth hockey game mimicking Kane's celebration from this year's playoffs, when he scored the double-overtime winner in Game 5 of the Blackhawks' series against the Blues.

Not bad, kid!

Kane recognized the kid's celly game, tweeting the video out to his followers Friday afternoon.

Saturday on CSN: Fire go for second straight win with Timbers in town

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Saturday on CSN: Fire go for second straight win with Timbers in town

The beginning of the season was not very good for the Chicago Fire, just ask general manager Nelson Rodriguez.

However, a win against Portland on Saturday would put the Fire, currently last in Major League Soccer with 10 points, back within range of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. That’s how quickly things can turn around in Major League Soccer, especially in the weaker of the two conferences.

The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on CSN and coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. There will also be a Spanish language simulcast on CSN+.

The Fire (2-5-4, 10 points) are coming off a 1-0 win against Houston. The last time the Fire had back-to-back wins was April of last year.

Portland (4-6-3, 15 points) is the defending MLS Cup champs, but the Timbers have not looked like it so far this season. Portland is the only team in the league without a shutout and is tied for the most goals allowed in the league.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic mentioned the preseason meeting between the two teams as something to use as a reference. The Fire won 2-0 in Portland on Feb. 27, but a preseason win didn’t do the Fire any good against Vancouver, which beat the Fire on May 11.

“We had a great performance in Portland,” Paunovic said. “We learned a lot about them in that game.

“They play as a team. They are very good in transition. They are very good on set pieces, too. A lot of important, individually very good players.”

Fanendo Adi is certainly one of those very good players. The Nigerian is tied for the league lead with eight goals. Diego Valeri and Jack McInerney also have four goals each, with McInerney mostly coming off the bench.

When asked if the Fire and Timbers have similar styles, Paunovic detailed a few of the tactical differences.

“They play very narrow at times, but we are looking for something different,” Paunovic said. “When we have Gilberto, Kennedy (Igboananike), (David) Accam switch positions to create superiority on a different part of the field and especially being in the final third it can give us a lot of advantage. We have very fast, very offensive guys up in front and I believe that can help.”

This will be the first time since the season opener that Accam will be available to play at home. He came back from injury with two appearances on the road and was suspended for the win against Houston. Paunovic could have all three aforementioned forwards play together for the first time since the season opener.

As for who won’t be available, John Goossens and Michael Harrington are out while Collin Fernandez is listed as questionable while still nursing an ankle sprain.

Meanwhile, Portland is short two players who are prepping for the Copa America before MLS goes on break after the weekend. Key playmaker Darlington Nagbe is with the U.S. while defender Jermaine Taylor is away with Jamaica.

Maddon, Cubs giving Iron Man Anthony Rizzo his own 'mini All-Star break'

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Maddon, Cubs giving Iron Man Anthony Rizzo his own 'mini All-Star break'

Joe Maddon took full advantage of the off-day Thursday.

"I rested my butt off," the Cubs manager said.

Maddon wants Anthony Rizzo to do the same, giving the Iron Man first baseman the day off Friday to kick off a holiday-weekend series against the Phillies at Wrigley Field.

Rizzo has played every game for the Cubs so far, appearing in 399.1 innings at first base out of a possible 407.1.

He led the National League in games played (160) and plate appearances (701) last season and has missed only 26 games since the start of 2013.

"This is something I was looking forward to doing," Maddon said before Friday's game. "When I was with Tampa Bay, I used to do this with Carl [Crawford] all the time to try to take advantage of either the front or back side of a day off to give him two days off.

"I think it's great the way it all played out with the left-hander today (Adam Morgan) for them. And then we play consecutively after this — hopefully, barring any rainouts.

"It was a good time to just give him his little mini All-Star break. And then just have him come back fresh tomorrow."

Friday's game began a stretch of 13 straight for the Cubs, who don't have their next off-day until June 9.

Maddon said he wouldn't hesitate to use Rizzo off the bench if the Cubs needed it Friday.

The All-Star first baseman and perennial MVP candidate is mired in a 3-for-38 slump with his last extra-base hit coming May 14 against the Pirates.

Maddon is hoping this day off will help Rizzo recharge mentally, too.

"I'm anticipating a good result, so that moving forward later in the season, maybe do the same thing again," Maddon said. "'Cause it really does rest those guys up."

Maddon is also giving Jason Heyward his own "mini All-Star Break" Friday after playing two straight games coming out of the scary-looking injury in San Francisco last week.

Heyward left in the first inning of last Friday's game and then missed the next three before playing every inning of the final two games against the Cardinals this week.

Maddon said Heyward is feeling OK, but the Cubs just want to play things safe.

"I wanna be a little cautious," Maddon said. "We had a significant moment in San Francisco. We were more worried that it was going to be even worse and it turned out to be good, so why press our luck right now?

"Let's take advantage of the moment. And a lot of times, the schedule tells you what to do, you just gotta pay attention."

In place of Heyward and Rizzo, Maddon inserted Matt Szczur in right field and Kris Bryant at first base.

Maddon forecasted his backup plan at first base last week in Milwaukee the day after Rizzo was removed in the ninth for a pinch-runner in a game that ultimately went to 13 innings. 

Javy Baez was the option then at first base, but Bryant did shift over there for an out. 

Friday, Maddon opted for Baez at third and Bryant at first.

"KB's been really good at third base. Just a little bit more agility there with Javy," Maddon said. "I still like how large KB is at first base, for lack of a better word. I mean, he's big. He's a great target.

"Moving forward, it's kind of interesting to give him an opportunity to do it. This is something when he's 10 years from now, he's probably going to be able to do very easily. For right now, I like the agility of third base with Javy and I like the target at first base with KB."

Bryant has continued his evolution into Mr. Versatility this season, moving to right field in a tough ballpark when Heyward got hurt last week and regularly seeing time in left field and third base.

When asked how he will handle the transition to first base, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year had the same reaction he does to most things — a simple shrug of the shoulders.

"I think I have good instincts on the field, so I'm gonna go with those and hopefully my glove's broken in," he said through a smile. "That's all I'm worried about, really. I think just playing the infield and throwing the ball across the diamond a lot, I kinda see how it works over there and the bunt defenses and stuff like that. I think it should be alright."

Bryant said he's not worried about making scoops or stretches, relying on his hands and instincts and acknowledging that those are both actions in the moment.

Bryant — who has 6.1 innings under his belt at first base in his professional career — also said he feels comfortable wherever he plays and has talked in the past about being seen as a "baseball player" rather than a "third baseman" or "outfielder."

"I've played some first before," he said. "I played my freshman year in college. I actually worked out mostly at first base my whole fall leading up to the season and then I played third base the whole year there.

"I've had some experience there working around the bag, turning double plays, throwing from a different arm slot over there. I feel comfortable with it.

"I like to be a baseball player and I guess this is another one of those situations where I get to kinda show that."