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A father's loss

Posted by She's Game Sports November 26, 2012 07:29 AM

When I saw the report on Sunday about the death of Sasha McHale, I was shocked and saddened. My mind flashed back to the days I covered her dad, Kevin McHale, as a player with the Celtics. Those were the days of the original “Big Three.” Larry Bird did his talking on the court, Robert "Chief" Parish was silent, but deadly, and Kevin kept everyone in stitches.

When Kevin McHale held court after a practice or a game, you knew it was going to be good. The man had a way with words- and a genuine, personable nature. It was easy to see he came from the Midwest where everyone is just so darn friendly.

McHale was a proud family man too. He and his wife Lynn have been married for 30 years. They started their big family back in McHale’s basketball hey day. Five children is a good sized family by most standards; it's a huge family for a young professional athlete.

When I was pregnant with my first child in 1991, Sasha McHale was a one-year-old with a bunch of older siblings, and her dad was an expert on all things “baby.”

It was unusual enough back in those days to see a female sports reporter covering an NBA team, but to see a “pregnant” female sports reporter was beyond. McHale just couldn’t help himself as he paraded around in front of me with a basketball stuck up his jersey after practice one day. It was hilarious. Even Marv Albert made mention of it on the next national telecast.

McHale offered unsolicited advice on how to calm a screaming baby. I’ll never forget the day he told me about the power of a pacifier. He said they were the best invention ever. Then he went on to say how first-time parents sterilize the pacifier when it falls of the floor, second-time parents just rinse them off, and by the third kid, you learn just to stick them in your ears so you don’t hear the crying. Spoken like a true expert, and now as a mother of three, I can say he was exactly right.

I worked 25 years covering pro athletes in every sport, and went through three pregnancies doing it. Kevin McHale was the only athlete to offer parental advice. I will admire him for it always.

My heart is breaking for a man that made me laugh so much. My prayers go out to Kevin, Lynn and their four children.

As parents, we just never know what lies around the bend, and how we would ever deal with the death of our child. It’s a sadness that no mother or father should have to bear, but so many do.

Kevin McHale made it clear his kids were his true pride and joy like every great father does.

Kathryn Tappen's Thanksgiving reflections

Posted by She's Game Sports November 22, 2012 08:21 AM

‘Tis the season to start reflecting on what we are most grateful for.

Thanksgiving is one week away, and while everyone is busy getting their grocery list items crossed off for the massive amount of family and friends who will invade the premises, I thought it would be appropriate to take a minute and reflect on what I am thankful for.

  1. I’m thankful that I am not dead last in my weekly pick-‘em football pool. Bottom third? Yep! But not dead last. At least I have some sort of integrity to preserve.

  2. I’m thankful that the election is over and I don’t have to listen to or watch campaign ads 24/7. Hey, I get it. But over a billion dollars spent? Come on!

  3. I’m thankful that people actually find me somewhat interesting to follow me on Twitter. I was against the social media giant, but my colleagues and bosses felt it was necessary for me to join. Thankfully, people are there to support me. THANK YOU all, and I apologize if I’m not as interesting as you thought.

  4. I’m thankful that my husband allows us to have the super duper cable package so we get Showtime. I am obsessed with Homeland.

  5. I’m thankful that I never emailed a war general through Gmail.

  6. I’m thankful Selena Gomez finally came to her senses and broke up with… what’s his name again?

  7. I’m thankful that E.L. James took her talents to a publisher.

  8. I’m thankful my “IPad2” looks like the latest “IPad with Retina Display” so I don’t look like I’m behind the times with technology (although I’m sure Apple will screw me over in another 6 months).

  9. I’m thankful you can’t take the Jersey out of the Jersey Girl (thank you Bruce).

Okay, okay enough of that.

In all seriousness, I am thankful for so many things in my life. I have a wonderful family, awesome friends, an incredible job, and I am thrilled to be a part of She’s Game Sports.

I pray for everyone close to my hometown who was affected by Hurricane Sandy, and I wish them all well in the recovery process.

And I’m thankful that I only have to wait seven more days until the radio stations start playing Christmas songs around the clock!


Thanksgiving served with a heaping helping of high school football

Posted by She's Game Sports November 21, 2012 01:14 PM

I love Thanksgiving because it combines three of my favorite things in the world: food, family and football (although not necessarily in that order).

Growing up in Michigan, we always had the Lions to watch while the bird was cooking. My childhood memories consist of the smell of turkey in the oven and the Lions getting toasted.

I migrated to Boston as a college student and never left. It was then that I learned that Thanksgiving Day wasn’t just about the Lions and the Cowboys. New England embraced America’s best game by honoring it at the high school level.

My friends at Boston College who grew up in the area told me that their Thanksgiving Day always begins on a frozen field either home or away. Mom throws the turkey in the oven, and everyone heads off to “the game.”

How does the house not burn down? I wondered.

Rivalries. Community. High School Football. This doesn’t happen in Michigan on Thanksgiving or in a lot of other places. Tradition in New England isn’t just Harvard versus Yale. It’s Natick vs. Framingham, Winchester vs. Woburn, Matignon vs. Chelsea, English vs. Latin, and on and on and on.

As I moved on as a sports reporter, I quickly learned the importance of covering a game on Thanksgiving morning. I stood on fields from Brockton to Lynn year in and year out. I remember covering a game in 1990 after learning that morning I was pregnant with my first child. My feet were freezing and my heart was warm.

All these years later, I still love it when those high school scores scroll through on the local news. Alan Miller, an esteemed sports producer at WBZ always chose the music “Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys. I imagined people from Malden to Masconomet just waiting  for the three seconds they would see their school’s name in lights.

Mike Lynch at WCVB has turned Thanksgiving Day high school football coverage into part of the holiday landscape. Nice touch wearing the sweatshirts from different schools throughout the football special. Kudos to all those photographers, producers and editors who make it all happen.

Then there is the pro game. There are two givens: Dallas and Detroit. Now we have a night game, this year featuring the Patriots and Jets. A few years ago when the Patriots played the Lions in the middle of the afternoon, it meant structuring the timing of the meal around the game.

“Nobody eats until the final whistle,” I told my guests.

It was a terrific display of clock management in the kitchen, impressive execution even by Bill Belichick standards.

Now I’m one of those moms throwing the turkey into the oven and heading off to watch high school football. Home from college, my son will go back to BC High. The rest of the family will watch the local game and my daughter will be cheering on the sidelines. Go Blue!

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for football, family and food. A perfect pie crust would be nice too.

Ignoring the stereotype: women as sideline reporters

Posted by She's Game Sports November 15, 2012 12:07 PM

Just about every job has a stereotype associated with it – that picture we create in our heads as small children that we try to alter as we grow older. Many of these images we create and foster involve the gender of those in the occupation. People think firefighter and they imagine it being a man’s job. Meanwhile, many people associate being a nurse or a teacher with being a woman. We know that these stereotypes are wrong, but we still grow up believing them.

Out of all of those generalities, however specific they are to the gender of a person, very few have to do with the actual appearance of the person. That is what makes the stereotype about women in sports journalism so incredibly frustrating. When people think about sports writers and broadcasters, they assume that they are male – sports journalism is a male-dominated profession. But if female sports journalists are mentioned there is this assumption that they must look like models.

Male sports journalists are not held up to this standard, or at least the last time I checked they were not.

My frustration was reignited earlier this week when I read an interview that Sports Illustrated conducted with Charles Barkley, a former basketball star and current sports broadcaster. For the majority of the interview Barkley discussed different basketball players, his relationship with Michael Jordan and some of the storylines that will come out of the NBA this year. That was all fine, I have no problems there. Toward the end of the interview, however, Barkley started down a slippery slope.

The interviewer asked Barkley for his opinion on sideline reporters in a broadcast. Barkley responded that he is not a fan. He does not think that asking a coach questions during halftime is a good idea because a coach has not even digested the problems that the team has had. I have no problems with this – that is a completely legitimate opinion, and it was well argued in the interview.

“That’s why I love interviews with Gregg Popovich,” the interviewer said. “He’s great television when he makes reporters uncomfortable.”

“Oh, he’s great,” Barkley responded. “But I will tell you one form of discrimination no one ever talks about regarding sideline reporters.”

“What’s that?” the reporter asked.

“If you are an ugly woman, you have no chance of getting a TV job,” Barkley said.

This would be the point in the conversation that lit a fuse inside of me, but I had not become truly frustrated.


“But if you dress like Craig Sager, you can still get hired, right?” the interviewer responded, referring to a sideline reporter known for wearing velvet suits and colorful ties as well as other unique clothing.

“Hey, I think you have to dress like Sager to get a job now. I will say this: They have hot, great-looking women on TV now. But if you are an ugly woman, you ain’t got no chance of getting a TV job.”

Good thing the interview abruptly ended there because I am pretty sure I would have become even more upset if the article continued.

Here is the problem with what Barkley said and how the interviewer reacted: Barkley referred to the situation as discrimination that what he calls “ugly” women are never hired as sideline reporters. Yet, at no point does he suggest a solution; rather, he continues to put down any prospect of a woman who is not “hot” getting a sideline job. Furthermore, the interviewer seems to take what Barkley said as a joke by bringing up Craig Sager.

“But if you are an ugly woman, you ain’t got no chance of getting a TV job.”

That last sentence needed repeating.

I did not enter into this field because I thought men would enjoy watching me talk about sports on their TV. I decided to become a sports journalist because I wanted to be the person delivering the news to people who look at sports as more than just a game. I want to be the person whose article gets clipped out of the newspaper and saved when a team wins the World Series. And 10 years later when that person finds that crinkled up piece of paper, browned with age and inevitably tattered on the edges, they will read that article one more time and remember a moment when they were truly happy.

I am not here so that you can look at me and judge my outward appearance. If that were the reason I was going into the field, I would not spend quite as much time and money on my education.

So here is what I have decided. I am not going to focus on breaking the stereotype, and I encourage other women in the sports field not to focus on it either. I think we should ignore it because I do not think we should become caught up in a battle of who is hot and who is not. Instead, let’s work on making our writing better, reporting better and leave the physical attributes behind. Then maybe, one day all of us can rest easy knowing that someone enjoyed our work because it was something we put effort into, and not because of how we appeared while we were creating it.

Meet the newest Hockey Hall of Famers

Posted by She's Game Sports November 12, 2012 11:31 AM

Monday, November 12th is the induction ceremony for the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2012, and amid the NHL lockout, it’s going to be a low profile event.

The latest meetings were popularized as the ones that could save the season, but instead, reports coming out of the latest negotiations are pessimistic and progress was negligible. So Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin will more quietly slip into the annals of hockey history. The fanfare they might have received in the arenas of their former teams is moot.

This is just one example of how this lockout is cheapening the experience of the sport; so much of what the players and owners continue to disagree about has to do with money, and yet the feeling of watching your favorite team take the ice and compete, even streaming online over a bad Internet connection, is supposed to be invaluable. You can buy cheap thrills, but there’s no check to be written that can put a price on passion. At least, our idealistic sports fan souls say that this is true. Among the many lost moments of this NHL season are beautiful goals, controversial calls and heroic shot blocks. We’ll never get them back.

Here, then, are some short profiles of the 2012 Hall of Fame inductees.

Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket, came to the NHL as a 20-year-old from Moscow and played for the Vancouver Canucks starting in the 1991-92 season. Prior to joining the most competitive league in the world, he already had the 1990 World Championship gold medal under his belt. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s best rookie that season, putting up a total of 60 points (34 goals, 26 assists).

After that, Bure pulled off two consecutive 60-goal seasons. He also was part of the team’s Stanley Cup Finals run in 1994 and remained with the Canucks until 1998. With the Florida Panthers, he had at least two more prodigious goal-scoring seasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, nearly reaching 60 twice and still having the most goals of anyone in the league. Competing for Russia, he also accrued two Olympic medals in his career: the 1998 silver medal in Nagano and the 2002 bronze medal in Salt Lake City. Bure's NHL career ended as a member of New York Rangers in 2003.

Adam Oates got his start as a junior lacrosse player in Ontario before switching to hockey in 1984. He played college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but forewent his senior year to enter (undrafted) into the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings for the 1985-86 season.

While his time with the Red Wings was by no means poor, Oates really broke out when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1989 and put on the top line as Brett Hull’s center. He scored 102 points during the 1989-90 season and 115 the following year even though he only played in 61 games.

After being traded to the Boston Bruins, Oates put up even more prolific seasons, including 142 points in 1992-93. While his scoring dropped off in later years, he still often averaged nearly or more than a point per game. His assist totals always exceeded his goal totals, and he was the principal playmaker to many legendary goal-scorers, including Peter Bondra and Cam Neely.

Oates later played for the Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and the Edmonton Oilers, where he finished his NHL career in 2004. Oates has recently been assistant coach to the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils, and he will assume the head coaching position of the Washington Capitals when NHL hockey begins again.

Joe Sakic only ever played for one franchise--the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche. A British Columbia native, Sakic got his start in the WHL after becoming a standout player at Burnaby North Secondary School in his hometown. He was drafted by the Nordiques in 1987, and played his first season at the NHL level in 1988-89.

It took Sakic only until his second season to top 100 points, scoring 102 that year. He became captain of the Nordiques in the 1992-93 season and would remain the captain when the franchise relocated to Colorado in 1995.  That season, Sakic captained the team to its first Stanley Cup. He recorded 120 points in the regular season and 34 in the playoffs. Sakic would captain the team to a second Stanley Cup in 2001, and he famously did not hoist the Cup himself before first passing it to teammate Ray Bourque, who had himself played 22 seasons without winning a championship.

In 2002, Sakic took home the gold medal in the Salt Lake City Olympics and had four points in the medal match. Sakic would continue to have strong seasons, whether on the scoreboard or simply as a team leader, until his retirement in the 2009 offseason. After a short break from hockey, he joined the Avalanche front office in an advisory capacity in 2011.

Mats Sundin began his career in Swedish leagues and was 18 years old when he was selected first overall in the 1989 NHL Draft, the first European-born player ever to be taken first. He was picked up by the Quebec Nordiques, and he debuted with them in 1990-91 and scored 59 points that year, a point total second only to now-fellow-Hall-of-Famer Joe Sakic.

Sundin is iconic, however, for his time with his second team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he was traded in 1994. His consistent scoring touch made him team captain within three years, following the departure of Doug Gilmour, and he led the Leafs to postseason success on multiple occasions, including the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999 and 2002. He broke multiple Maple Leafs team records during his thirteen seasons with the club, including most all-time goals and most all-time points. Sundin finished out his career with the Vancouver Canucks, signing as a free agent in 2008. He played for one year before announcing his retirement in 2009.

Other 2012 inductees to the Hockey Hall of Fame include longtime Buffalo Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret and Globe and Mail writer Roy MacGregor.

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer to see more future-Hall-of-Famer seasons.

Rockin' the ice election night

Posted by She's Game Sports November 9, 2012 11:36 AM

Like many Americans, I spent the better part of seven hours watching election coverage on Tuesday night. I’m one of those people who likes to flip around to see which network is doing what, who calls it first and who nailed the big interview.

On this night I settled in early with NBC. Not because of Brian Williams, David Gregory and Samantha Guthrie. Not because of Tom Brokaw or Chuck Todd.

It was the ice rink. I was hypnotized by that sheet of ice painted with the map of our country. An hour into the coverage I announced to my husband, “I really want to skate on that. How fun would that be?”

The remark was greeted by a blank stare at the crazy lady.

“You should be looking at the state of Florida, Alice, it’s important. So is Ohio,” I was told.

Of course I knew that. But that ice was great.

“Look at those guys spray painting the blue or the red for the winner.”

I thought of the bull gang at the Boston Garden. They could have rocked that.

Really, I thought. If a skater like Olympic champion Evan Lysacek took off for his triple lutz at North Carolina, he could land in Nevada…easily!

Like flights, skating jumps have a ‘take off’ and a ‘landing.’

I have skated at Rockefeller Center a number of times. It’s really small. It’s way too small to pull off throw double axels, that’s for sure. On Tuesday night it was huge.

Maybe it’s just that I needed to see an ice surface on television. Then I suddenly realized I had a bad case of hockey withdrawal.

If NBC was really on it, the network could have staged a hockey game instead of going back to “local coverage.” Give me a hip check, a kick save, and please give me a goal! I don’t care if it’s cheap or not. Just let me see a puck go into a net. "He shoots, he scores!"

The ice was being wasted. Nobody was skating on it.

I must say the reporter who stood on ice without skates was impressive. Imagine reporting on voting trends while using an iPad and not losing your balance once. She gets the gold medal.

A few hours into it, I realized the election coverage was being treated like a sporting event.

“It’s Romney’s offense versus Obama’s defense,” David Gregory declared.

Would Obama run the 4-3 or the 3-4, I wondered. What kinds of schemes does he have up his sleeve? Then I remembered the President is a hoops guy. Is he thinking zone or man-to-man?

I heard references to the ground game, a Hail Mary and a slam dunk. If running for office ever becomes a contact sport, I will truly have the best of both worlds.

Obama traditionally has played of game of pickup as a way to prepare for the big night. I wish there were video clips. Imagine the President throwing an elbow or flopping.

In 2010, Barack Obama challenged the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts to a little two-on-two. There was no network coverage, but according to Scott Brown, he and his daughter Ayla, a Boston College standout, kicked some serious butt. I never doubted it for a second.

Something tells me the President and Elizabeth Warren won’t meet on a basketball court any time soon. No matter how we voted, the professor proved she does have some game, just not that kind of game.

It's over now. The winners and losers are moving on, and NBC won the ratings.

It was all about the ice.

Returning to the Banks: a trip to my alma mater

Posted by She's Game Sports November 8, 2012 10:59 AM

There’s something special about rooting on your alma mater.

The passion that comes with the powerful cheers from the student body that now sits in the stands you once inhabited is unlike any other. It brings a feeling of nostalgia, excitement, and for me, satisfaction that, unlike during those four wonderful years, I no longer have to borrow money from my parents.

For the first time in a long time, I am returning to the “Banks of the Old Raritan”, as Howard N. Fuller affectionately wrote in 1873 in what became the Rutgers University alma mater.

The song is sung at the conclusion of athletic events on RU campus in New Jersey, and I cannot wait to hear its lyrics on Saturday afternoon.

The 7-and-1 Scarlet Knights will take on Army at High Point Solutions Stadium with over 52,000 fans sporting Scarlet pride.

I have fond memories of my days on the banks. As a member of the Rutgers Cross Country and Track & Field team, I was fortunate to attend many football games after my Saturday morning meets. The athletic department always honored the entire student-athlete body at one of the first home games of the season.

I remember my Junior year in particular. Gary Brackett (Super Bowl XLI champ), Shawn Seabrooks, and L.J. Smith (Eagles ’03-‘08/Ravens ‘09) were the captains. The team was not very good- go figure with those NFL guys leading the pack!

The third home game of the year was the first and only victory for that Scarlet Knights team, who went 1-11/ 0-7 in the Big East. It was a dominating 44-0 defeat of Army that gave the entire University and its fans hope that the season would turnaround. Such was not the case.

I remember four years later when Rutgers earned national recognition under then-head coach Greg Schiano in 2006 with the program going 11-2 and earning a bowl berth for the first time in the modern day era. I was a proud broadcaster in Boston at the time, forcing my producers to give me an extra 30 seconds to read the RU highlights from the games on the nightly sportscast. The story was not just about Rutgers football, but it was about passion and hope for sports fans across the nation. A feel-good story will get you every time, even if it occurs 250 miles south of Boston.

I remember the news ticker on October 16, 2010. RU defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a severe spinal injury during the Scarlet Knights game against the Army Black Knights in New Meadowlands Stadium . It was one of those moments in sports where you absolutely cringe, and wish you could rewind the tape and erase the tragedy.

But with personal strength and the nation behind him, LeGrand became an inspiration to all of us. In July 2011, LeGrand tweeted photos of himself standing upright and announced that he was steadily regaining movement in his arms. LeGrand believes he will walk again, and so do the rest of us.

I remember all of these memories, like so many other graduates who root for and follow their alma mater.

Throughout my career, I have always mentioned my roots as a Rutgers student athlete, because I truly believe the experience I had there and the many wonderful people I met along the way helped shape me. My journalism professors still reach out to me; my roommates and teammates are still my close friends.

And this post-college journey has allowed me to follow the wonderful school that I had the honor to attend for four years.

On Saturday, my mentor in the business and friend, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti, has invited my family and me to join him in the Athletic Director’s suite to watch the Scarlet Knights football team take on Army. Here’s to another defeat of the Black Knights like the one I witnessed in 2002.

I can’t wait to see the team charge the field, and hear the thunderous roars from the crowd. I’m excited to see how things have changed On the Banks since the last time I was on campus. I am going to enjoy seeing my proud parents once again take in an RU football game, as they did for the years I was enrolled and the many years following my graduation. And rumor has it that Eric LeGrand will also be at Rutgers on Saturday, the programs' second meeting since that fateful day he was injured more than two years ago.

But what I’m most looking forward to is seeing firsthand the outpouring of support that Rutgers Athletics has contributed to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. No region was devastated more by the storm than the New Jersey and New York coastline. As the State University of New Jersey, I know that the staff and student body at Rutgers have done their part in assisting those in need.

In the team’s first home game since the devastation, I have no doubt that I will be a part of a memorable weekend because there’s just something special about rooting on your alma mater.

Concussions in youth sports: a headache we can do without

Posted by She's Game Sports November 5, 2012 09:48 AM

The freshman football player from Dedham, who we’ll call Joe (he wishes to remain anonymous), remembers the drill that left him with a concussion. It happened when his school team moved on to live hitting after practicing form tackles for weeks, and Joe was excited. He lined up opposite his drill partner, waited for the whistle, and went for the tackle just like he’d done hundreds of times before in Pop Warner—except this time, Joe led with his head.

First, he heard the crunch of his helmet against his teammates’, and then he felt it: Dizziness. Fogginess. A headache.

At first, Joe thought maybe he could shake it off, so he got back into line and practiced for a while longer. But when he realized that he’d never felt this way after a big hit before, he told his coach what happened. The school’s athletic trainer asked him a few questions before confirming that, yes: Joe had suffered a concussion.

Joe’s mom says she believes the school handled the incident appropriately, but she still worries about her son’s future on the football field. “Joe has very good technique and is a smart player with good skills but at some level, it really comes down to brute strength and this is a sport that encourages ferocious hits,” she told She’s Game Sports via email.

“I worry too about the cumulative effect if Joe were to suffer another concussion. The current research would suggest that multiple concussions have a cumulative damaging effect on the brain. That is something we’d like to help Joe avoid, as I’m sure any responsible parent would.”

Over the past several years, NFL fans have likely noticed a growing emphasis on concussion prevention and treatment. A 2011 policy requires teams to have a neurologist on the sidelines, and bars players who exhibit concussion-like symptoms from returning to games.

Following the pros’ lead, school sports and local youth leagues have tried to up the ante in preventing and diagnosing concussions: Pop Warner football leagues are required to have a minimum of one trained EMT on hand for all games, and coaches are required to have an ‘emergency plan’ for concussions.

High school athletes (and their parents) are now often required to complete concussion education programs before getting on the field.

So why do we still hear horror stories like the five-concussion fiasco of a Pop Warner game that took place about six weeks ago in central Massachusetts?

The answer is complicated. But it involves a lack of awareness and a self-policed system of concussion reporting in contact sports, where athletes are judged in part on toughness. That nearly everyone contacted for this story wished to remain anonymous speaks volumes to that culture.

Increasing awareness should be the easier side of the equation to solve, and there’s anecdotal evidence that it’s already had a measurable effect on participation in youth sports:

“In my suburban town southwest of Boston, Pop Warner enrollment is down significantly,” said the father of a 9-year-old athlete.

“Traditionally, the league was able to field two or three teams per age group. This season, most age groups are down to one team, and one age group was disbanded altogether. The local flag football league has been the main beneficiary, growing from six teams of 9-to-11-year-olds last season to 10 teams this season.”

But swapping out youth sports’ culture of toughness for a less dangerous alternative won’t be so easy. After all, the coaches and parents at the now-infamous game between Southbridge and Tantasqua were aware of Pop Warner’s focus on preventing concussions.

Yet they failed to observe a score-induced mercy rule, even when Tantasqua couldn’t field a full team with its remaining healthy players. As a result, five children between the ages of 10 and 12 suffered brain trauma. Read that last sentence again:

Five children between the ages of 10 and 12 suffered brain trauma.

There’s obviously plenty of individual blame to go around here (not least of which to Southbridge’s website designer, who asks, without any sense of irony, “Are you tough enough?”). Both coaches have been suspended, and the parents in attendance that day presumably realize the monumental error they made in letting the game continue.

But the show goes on, full of overly competitive coaches and helicopter parents whose fervor for ensuring their kid’s athletic success borders on maniacal.

You’ve likely seen these parents at your town’s little league games berating referees, haranguing coaches and generally taking everything too seriously. They’re the exception, not the rule, and they operate under the mistaken assumption that the final score in youth rec league games actually matters.

When final scores do start to matter in high school, athletes often play with a different assumption in mind: report my concussion, and I’ll lose my playing time. Patrick (who wished to use only his first name for the story), a former lacrosse player at a large Boston prep school, stayed in a game with a concussion for that very reason.

“He got his concussion during a game, but like other kids, did not let the coach know,” his mother told She’s Game Sports via email. “He said his head was ringing and he knew something was wrong, but he didn’t have loss of consciousness so he was able to shrug it off to the coaches.”

“Patrick, like most kids I think, played through it as not to lose his place on the team. Afterwards, he suffered from headaches, inability to concentrate and photophobia (intolerance to light). I have to say, academics were so much more difficult for him for a long time after. Everything was just harder, and more difficult to finish.”

It’s not surprising that Patrick experienced such severe, long-lasting effects:

“The frontal regions of the brain are far more vulnerable to concussions. These areas oversee executive functions responsible for planning, organizing and managing information,” said Dr. Dave Ellemberg, a professor at the University of Montreal’s Department of Kinesiology. (via “During adolescence, these functions are developing rapidly which makes them more fragile to stress and trauma.”

Put simply, concussions are more dangerous for a teenager’s brain than that of an adult.

Sports equipment manufacturers are developing products with brain safety in mind, but concussion-sensing helmets and caps go for anywhere from $200 to $1,000—well outside most parents’ equipment budget.

Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Training, or ImPACT Testing has become more widespread, but it is still not mandatory in many high school athletic programs. Patrick’s school requires a test, for instance, while Joe’s doesn’t. Cognitive tests establish a baseline for neurological activity, and can help medical professionals determine when it’s safe for players to return to the field.

Until these technologies become more accessible, we’re likely to keep hearing stories like Joe’s and Patrick’s. In the meantime, concerned parents and coaches must continue to chip away at the culture of toughness that pervades youth sports.

It’s unrealistic to think that youth football, hockey or lacrosse could ever be 100 percent risk-free activities—and parents understand that. But it’s equally insane to think that we aren’t trying anything and everything to come as close to that standard as possible.

That includes increasing concussion awareness training for coaches, parents and players. It also means utilizing ImPACT Testing in every high school athletic program. And, most importantly, it means making sure that young athletes don’t have to think twice before reporting concussion symptoms.

After all, as Patrick’s mother points out, “It hasn’t been that long that such emphasis has been put on concussive syndrome. There was a time you were considered weak if you complained of it, and that was not long ago.”

There’s too much at risk—namely, our children’s health and well-being—to continue to sweep the epidemic of concussions in youth sports under the rug.

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She’s Game Sports is a new media company dedicated to sports-loving women around the world. We are here to entertain, serve, empower and inspire women by delivering the “heart of More »

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Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street