New program in Fairfax to help reduce football concussions

FAIRFAX, Va. (WJLA) - Football -- as much as excitement is part of the game, so too is the worrying, at least for parents.

Diedre Ray's son loves playing football at Oakton High School, and she told ABC7 this week that she likes that Fairfax County is embracing change as the issue of football concussions gains more attention.

"As a mom you always [worry]. Anytime a player is on the field, you hold your breath," she said.

"[This issue] is important, and I'm glad they're recognizing it," Ray added. As a mom, I really appreciate them looking out for our student athletes."

Last fall, 25 high schools in Fairfax County implemented Head's Up Football, a safety program for tackling developed by the youth outreach arm of the National Football League (NFL).

Previously, concussions were up 33 percent from the average for the previous five year. According to Fairfax County, the big jump reflects increased recording and reporting of injuries.

Bill Curran, director of activities and athletics in Fairfax County, expects concussion numbers to drop now that the program is in place. The culture, he says, is shifting.

"We'd much rather take that kid out, if we even think there's an issue, as opposed to leaving him in because there probably isn't," he explained.

"The biggest piece we had never seen before was the way our coaches think," Curran explained. "[That's] changes on the field and on the sidelines, where coaches are much more aware and focused, watching for potential injury and taking action quickly. It's changed the way we approach practice."

ABC7 watched practice with Oakton High Coach Jason Rowley back in August. Not only were players told over and over how to tackle more safely, but practices are also shorter now, and feature less contact.

"It just helps to reinforce, as coaches, to remember what those fundamentals are and keep the game safe in that way," Rowley said.

As a result, the program is helping to keep kids on the field.