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Back to School: Doctor warns local parents of athletes about brain trauma

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GRAND FORKS, ND (WDAZ-TV) - In the final installment of our Back -To-School series, shocking results from a study about athletes and brain injuries, and a warning from a local doctor to parents of all student athletes in our area.

According to a recent study published by the American Medical Association, 110 out of 111 NFL football players studied showed some form of CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma. A local doctor says all parents, even of high schoolers, need to take this issue seriously.

John Santiago, UND running back: “You've just gotta play every play like it's your last.”

But what if you can't even remember your last play?

Dr. Billy Haug, sports medicine physician: “This is a very serious issue in children and in youth sports, because their brains are still developing, any kind of insult to the brain, or to the body at younger stages of the development can affect the way that the brain develops later in life."

As more research becomes available, more players are stepping away from the game.

Jonah Lund: “I just couldn't justify ruining my brain.”

Maggi Lund: “It was very scary. He was more agitated. His personality changed.”

In Jonah’'s case, the best way to protect his future was to leave the helmet behind.

Maggi: “I'm very thankful. I think we made the right decision. He's going to be applying for med school in a year.”

Jonah: “Looking back at it, it was a good decision to quit.”

But this decision is not one-size-fits-all.

Santiago: “You can't let things like that hold you back from playing the game you love. Injuries are a part of the game.”

Jake Disterhaupt, UND senior linebacker: “It crosses your mind maybe a little bit but in the action, you're just playing football, you're just doing what you love.”

The ramifications of a head injury last forever, but so can the lessons learned on the field. 

Dr. Haug: “Sportsmanship, being a member of a team, conditioning and staying healthy and fit, these lessons learned in youth sports can last a lifetime.”

As more information about CTE has become available, coaches are taking preventative measures to protect their team.

Eric Schmidt, UND defensive coordinator: “We spend so much more time teaching tackling, the proper way to tackle than we ever have here. The word reckless gets used a lot in football and I think there's technique that needs to be taught and part of our job as coaches is keeping guys healthy and keeping them on the field and keeping them safe so we take a lot of pride in that and it's definitely an important part of our job.”

And often, in this community, it's not just a team - it's family.

Bill Lorenz, Grand Forks Central head coach: “I'll have three boys in the program this year and like you said, it's not only my three own sons, I've got you know 90 of them out there that I want to try and take care of and nobody wants to see that injury.”

Dr. Haug says that CTE does not just affect football players, but other contact and collision sports, such as soccer, rugby, and hockey.

For more information about CTE, click on the links below.

Mark Pearson

Mark is the Sports Anchor at WDAZ. He comes to Grand Forks from his hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. Mark graduated from Butler University in 2016 and started working at WDAZ in July of that year. Mark is the Monday-Friday Anchor for the 6 and 10 O'clock shows. During his time as the Sports Anchor at WDAZ, he has covered events like March Madness, Super Bowl 52, and interviewed many athletes--from kindergarteners to professionals. Mark loves playing and watching sports as much as he enjoys covering them--when he was in high school, he was the captain of his varsity basketball team, and he played on Butler's club basketball team. Mark's favorite part of being a sports anchor is capturing and sharing the moments in sports that connect the community. Aside from broadcasting and reporting, Mark loves when he has the opportunity to be the play-by-play announcer for athletic events. In his spare time, you can find Mark shooting hoops, eating ice cream, or hanging out with his wife, Kelly, and their cat, Stella. Fun fact: Mark loves math so much, he added a math minor, just so he could take more college calculus courses. 

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