INDIANAPOLIS — Concussions have become one of the most hot button issues surrounding the sport of football over the last few years. Even at the youth level, awareness to protect players is ramping up, and as a symbol for those ongoing efforts, a west side boy was honored as a Riley Colts Coin Toss Kid recently after having suffered multiple concussions.
Thomas Strole, 13, plays as part of Ben Davis’ youth football league and in a four week span, suffered two concussions. But it’s been the research and education that his mother, Stephanie, says will allow him to play again next season.
“I think from my perspective of having a young kid in football is that the awareness is key. Because kids get hit all the time, and the hits start getting hard, and unless a kid in the past had blurry vision and can’t get up, if the kid says ‘I’m okay,’ they go back in. Now, I think the key with all the research is the awareness and the adults that coach these younger kids know that when a kid takes a hit it very likely can be a concussion,” says Stephanie.
It was Thomas’ doctor, Riley concussion specialist and Ben Davis High School physician, suggested him for the coin toss honor, and Stephanie said Thomas enjoyed the opportunity.
“It was pretty awesome,” she said. “We got to ride in a limo downtown and got to share that with his siblings. Then as the game got going he was really excited. He got to throw the football around with the defensive coordinator and got to try on a Super Bowl ring. He shook Reggie Wayne’s hand at the coin toss and Pat McAfee. He’d love to be an NFL player some day.”
Being a big Texas fan as well, Stephanie said her son was thrilled to get a chance to pat Cleveland Browns’ backup quarterback Colt McCoy, a Texas alum, on the shoulder and helmet.
But it’s that tough concussion recovery process that might one day allow Thomas to fulfill his dreams of playing on that stage.
“I think the thing we probably learned most was that there is a way to measure the progress and that’s through impact testing,” said Stephanie. “There is a way to measure their progress, so I think that’s a key. The other thing we learned is following the guidelines. There are protocols in place like adjusting their time in school. He went only a half a day initially, could only take one test a day.
“The impact testing is a computerized test where all high school players are impact tested as a baseline at the beginning of the year. It tests reaction time, memory, and concentration so with Thomas he didn’t have a baseline test at this age, but he had his first impact test within a week after he had the concussion.”
Stephanie also said there were other sacrifices Thomas made to get healthier, such as he was not allowed to watch television, play video games, or use texting on a cell phone for weeks, assimilating the injury to the brain like one to an ankle or knee where you walk on it before you’re ready.
“When you’re asking the brain to process, you’re not giving it time to heal, you’re asking it to work,” she said. “This kid studies football, he watches all of it, so he couldn’t watch anything.”
It was that dedication that helped him heal rather quickly. Stephanie said Thomas would tape football games to watch later on DVR and go through the commercials so he wouldn’t be watching too much television when he was allowed to again, but still not miss out on analyzing games.
Still, Stephanie, who comes from a family of athletes, says that she’s not concerned about her son getting back on the field next season and hopes he’s ready to play basketball by December.
“I’m not an alarmist. I understand that he has an injury and like any injury, you have to rehab it the right way and in the right amount of time so he’s in the best position physically. It doesn’t make me afraid. That first game back I’ll be hesitant to make sure he’s behaving like he normally would, but I think it’s from the experience that I’ve had and having siblings in sports that I won’t be too worried,” she said.
“By sixth grade, they’re hitting pretty hard at this age. What I believe about the new awareness about concussions is that it probably has always happened at this level, there just wasn’t as much awareness about it. I know that our coaches get educated just on concussion awareness and what they should be looking for, so I feel like they were all educated and aware.”