I must commend the sports editor(s) of this newspaper for two amazing Montana football stories: “Eureka!” by Bill Speltz (Nov. 26) and “Charlo athlete’s life …” by Justin Franz (Nov. 27). Together, these stories depicting the trials and triumphs of Garrett Graves and Nick Daugherty present us with a thought-provoking juxtaposition; the yin and yang, if you will, of football. If this tale of two young and heroic athletes was presented back-to-back intentionally, I put my commendation in all caps.
If you’ve tossed those two Missoulian issues, I’ll condense: A high-school quarterback, Garrett Graves, begs to stay in the game after a possible broken leg. The rest of the team rallies around their compromised QB for a win. A high-school sophomore lineman, Nick Daugherty, becomes post-game symptomatic with headaches, nausea and difficulty concentrating. Regardless and with no complaints to his coach, he suits up for the next game: “It was the homecoming game. I couldn’t miss it.” In the third quarter, running head-down, he takes a blow to the top of his head easily heard by his coach on the sidelines.
Daugherty’s doctors believe it will take a year for him to fully recover from his concussion. And with brain injuries, the term "full recovery" needs to be in quotation marks. The only possible future sports option for Daugherty, if he’s lucky, will be track. In current therapy sessions, almost three months post-injury, a few minutes of tossing a ball back and forth gets the room spinning around him.
Were I to meet Daugherty and his mom, I’d thank them for their courage and their insight; sharing a story that I believe the parent and coach of every young football player (or potential player) needs to hear.
Were I to meet Graves, I’d commend him on his leadership and dedication. Were I to meet his coach, Trevor Utter, my comments would not be so congratulatory. Not because he kept his senior QB in the game, allowing “the man in Graves to rise up,” as reporter Speltz puts it. No, I was with this feel-good story until the very end; up to the point where Graves' coach made statements of Utter nonsense (play on words intended).
“It drives me crazy to hear all this brain talk,” Coach Utter complains. “Obviously injuries can happen and ankles and shoulders and knees and heads and all of that.” Yes, this coach actually equates a head/brain injury (concussion) to a sprained ankle or torn ACL. I would hope that prior to next season, and before pronouncing any more frustration regarding “brain talk,” Utter has a serious sit-down with Nick Daughtery's mother or the parents of the late Dylan Steigers (Missoula native and concussion victim).
A congenital heart defect kept me from the “priceless experience” of high-school football — or any other sports. I had to learn my life lessons of teamwork and “playing through” disappointment and pain by working side by side with my dad and brothers on our family farm. As a retired teacher, I’ve known many high-school athletes and their coaches; fine people, all. And I get it — that special kind of bond and dedication that can come from youth team sports.
But any parent worth their diapering trophy needs to seriously consider the potential trauma (and even tragedy) against all the positives of any particular school sport. And, compared to any other team sport (basketball, soccer, lacrosse, etc.), football is at the head of the class when it comes to playing concussion roulette.
A talk with a potential coach is important. A talk with your child’s pediatrician: priceless.