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Because neurons are still starved for energy, even a minor “secondary impact” can unleash a devastating molecular cascade. This is largely because their brains are still developing, which means that even a slight loss of cells can alter the trajectory of brain growth.
For instance, a 2009 study commissioned by the NFL found that former players between the ages of 30 and 49 were being diagnosed with severe memory-related diseases at approximately nineteen times the rate of the general population.According to Mc Kee, this is the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.Needless to say, this disturbing data has not dissuaded anyone from playing in the NFL: The tremendous rewards offered to professional athletes help compensate for the potential risk. But this same calculus doesn’t apply to high school athletes, that pipeline of future talent.This uncertainty haunts the Mater Dei coaching staff, who struggle on a daily basis to effectively manage the risk of concussions among their players.The new research on concussions has allowed them to prevent many of the worst injuries, but it has also made them increasingly aware of the ubiquity of injury.The consequences appear to be particularly severe for the adolescent brain.According to a study published last year in Neurosurgery, high school football players who suffered two or more concussions reported mental problems at much higher rates, including headaches, dizziness, and sleeping issues.Mater Dei High School is a football powerhouse, with two national championships and nine California state titles.Set amid the suburban grid of Orange County, the school has drawn talented recruits for decades, including two Heisman trophy winners. " Because of its national reputation — and extremely well-funded athletic department — Mater Dei has been on the leading edge of concussion prevention and treatment for high school football players.Although these teenagers are suffering concussions at higher rates and with worse consequences — the head trauma of football targets the most vulnerable areas of the developing brain — the overwhelming majority of these kids will never play the sport competitively again.They are getting paid nothing and yet they are paying the highest cost.