Local youth football program reflects on new brain injury study

- Youth football coach Andy Stefanelli says he works to make football as safe as possible for his players despite new research that demonstrates a link between former football players and a serious brain condition.

Stefanelli starts his players off with proper tackling technique, teaching them the heads up method now standard in youth sports.

Still, the new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides staggering evidence. The study examined the brains of more than 200 deceased football players. The degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can only be confirmed during an autopsy.

Of the 202 players studied, 90 percent showed signs of CTE. Among 111 former NFL players examined, 110 or 99 percent, were diagnosed with CTE.

The brains used for the study were donated by families because their loved ones experienced symptoms of the disease. The study also did not look at the rate of CTE in the non-football playing public.

Stefanelli says he believes if there was a way to test for CTE in living athletes, the rate of disease would be much less in younger athletes because of the renewed attention to safety at the youth level in the last few years.

He believes the research can be used as a map to make the game safer in the future.

"I think we are making strides," said Stefanelli. "Again, a lot of the stuff we are doing now, we are not going to see in terms of results and studies until years down the road. I see a difference in the way the kids are playing the game now than they did ten years ago even."

Parents say they are encouraged by programs like Stefanelli's that put the focus on playing the game the safest way possible with a focus on minimizing risk.

"I think with any sport, you just want to make sure your kids are learning it safely," said parent Vira Gonyo.

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