The Pigeon Forge Tigers practiced in pads Monday evening
High school football season is just weeks away, and Monday marked the first day of practice in pads for many schools. However, those added layers mean teams are increasing the level of rough play, and the possible injuries that could follow.
LeConte Medical Center and the Sevier County School District are working together to prevent concussions in students athletes, by paying special attention to athletic equipment and student health.
"Injuries do happen. What we can do as professionals, health care professionals, as well as our coaches, is to prepare the athletes as best we can," said Scott Byrd, the sports medicine coordinator for LeConte Medical Center and Sevier County Schools.
"We feel like having this 'Impact' as a tool better prepares us in the event of an injury." he said.
Through the program, a sports medicine professional affiliated with the medical center is placed at each high school in the district. They educate students about sports health, help coaches monitor equipment, and conduct tests on student athletes' brain health.
Byrd says the process starts with a computerized baseline test for all athletes in their first season of play.
"It's picking up on their memorization skills, their word association. It's picking up on reaction time, different skill sets that you need, that during a brain injury can be affected," he said.
If an athlete suffers a concussion, that data is then available during the rehab process.
Pigeon Forge senior and football player Cory Fox is trying to stay healthy for the Tigers' season opener against Coalfield in August. He and his teammates were ready for pads-on practice Monday evening.
"We're all excited, real excited, ready to get out there and be physical," the quarterback said.
Safety is a primary concern on his team, which balances health and competition.
"The coaches always teach us - keep our heads up. They take us through precaution drills and be sure we're safe all the time," he said.
"We've got to be sure to we're physical most of the time too, we're not a light football team or anything!"
In a USA Today story, the CDC says concussions account for almost one in 10 sports injuries. The report also said most high school sport concussions happen in football and soccer.