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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)


After Byhalia High School football player Dennis Mitchell died during a game Friday, the USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee asked Memphis-area football coaches to describe precautionary measures they take to protect their student-athletes on the field.

Here's what they said:

James Thomas, Houston High School

On his staff's use of certified athletic trainers:

"We have a certified athletic trainer on site, a guy that's been at our school for over 25 years. We always talk to him. He's always the first person out on the field, he evaluates the person and then it is ultimately his call whether (the player) can return to play or not."

On playing through injuries:

"We tell (the players) to be tough, but ultimately there's a point where you're going to injure yourself more or you could become a detriment to the team in you try to play through an injury. That's why we always leave it up to the trainer - not up to a coach - whether he can return or not.

"(The trainer) wants what is best for the team, but ultimately he wants what is best for that kid."

Chris Smith, Germantown High School

On his team's medical staff and their procedure for handling injuries:

"We have an athletic trainer, a team doctor and usually an EMT on site. We're fortunate enough to have the resources in that area, and that plays a huge part."

"When a kid comes off the field, he's always assessed by our trainer first. If our trainer isn't familiar with something, the team doctor is there. They have the leeway to say whether he's cleared to go back in or not. If they deem that a kid isn't able to go back into the game, then we can't play him."

On preventing injuries:

"The thing we do best here at Germantown is our strength and conditioning program is year-round. That dramatically limits injuries on the football field. My first year at Germantown four years ago, we had 33 injuries in the first five weeks because we had never been through a real full offseason. Last year we had one serious injury, so we've gone from 33 down to one.

"I do think there are a lot of things you can do to limit serious injuries. You're always going to have freak accidents, but I do think you can teach a kid to better protect himself on the football field. Here at Germantown, we call it 'bullet-proofing our joints.' We've seen the ones that seem to get hurt the most are the ones that don't train for it year-round."

Quintin Jones, Kingsbury High School

On letting players return to the game after injuries:

"I wait until a certified trainer says that a player is allowed to return to a game. If the trainer says otherwise, he is not going back in."

Fred Copeland, Westwood High School

On listening to certified athletic trainers:

"When the athletic trainer says that a player can return, that is when I would allow a player to return to a game. I would never allow a player in on his own request. Wins and losses aren't that important when it comes to kids' safety."

Julius Jackson, MASE

On compromising a player's safety to earn a win:

"I tell my kids that I am not going to risk a kid's safety for a win. Last year, I had a kid get hit that I didn't see, and he came over and said 'Coach, I got hit and am feeling dizzy.' That was a game that we were competing in, but I sat him down the rest of the game. I only had 18 players last year.

"If I suspect any kind of a head injury, I would never allow a kid back in the game."

Rodney Saulsberry, Whitehaven High School

On being proactive with his players:

"The biggest thing is information - being educated. As coaches, we're required to be certified to look for signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest and monitor heat and workload.

"Being proactive is the biggest thing, (like having a) heat index monitor on the field when heat is elevated."

On proper nutrition:

"Being careful and attentive to each kid is important. Each kid is different. We try to focus on nutrition as much as can. It's difficult in high school to make sure kids have nutrition and eating properly."

The Tennessean's Michael Murphy and The Daily News Journal's Cecil Joyce contributed to this story.

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August 28, 2018


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