(pictured above: Coaches and others get on-field training.)
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ football coaches, certified athletic trainers and athletic directors learned about ways to better protect student-athletes during a seminar at Reagan High School on Monday, June 16.
“We are now the second school system in the state to have a clinic on our campus,” said Stan Elrod, a former Reagan principal who now serves as athletic director for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County high schools. “It is another way to talk about safety in athletics. The safety of our young people is top priority and this is just another step for us to provide the safest environment that we can.”
The seminar focused on ways to minimize the risk of head trauma while on the field and techniques to improve head safety. Topics like proper equipment fitting and “heads-up” tackling were discussed, as were concussion recognition and awareness and heat and hydration.
“The NFL and USA Football, in connection with the Centers for Disease Control and the Korey Stringer Institute, has set up standards with protocol for heat and hydration, concussion awareness and proper tackling techniques. The fitting of a helmet and shoulder pads is crucial to cutting down injuries to young people,” said E.Z. Smith, who amassed a 254-100-1 record during his nearly 30 years as head football coach at Concord High School. “A lot of athletic directors and trainers learned how to do the necessary drills to help prevent concussions. It gives the coaches an extra set of eyes.”
Smith now travels the state and beyond to tout the Heads Up Tackling technique (which avoids direct helmet-to-helmet contact) for USA Football, the national governing body of youth football.
The local seminar was sponsored by the Matthew Gfeller Foundation, which was founded by the Gfeller family after Matthew died in August 2008 after a severe helmet-to-helmet collision during his first Reynolds High School varsity football game.
In the years since Matthew passed away, his family has started several initiatives aimed at player safety, including the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC Chapel Hill.
“It was a great opportunity for coaches, trainers and others to go through the program and see how valuable it is for their kids and players,” said Bob Gfeller, Matthew’s father. “The techniques and the work that the Heads Up program is doing will really make our kids safer. It is very important for Matthew’s spirit to live on with a purpose.”
Elrod was principal at Reynolds for nearly 15 years. He had moved on to Reagan when the Matthew Gfeller tragedy occurred. He is thankful for the Gfeller’s kindness in sponsoring the workshop for the school system.
“The Gfeller’s have taken a tragic situation and tried to make it as positive as they can,” he said.
Eric Puryear, head football coach at Atkins High School, said he hoped the seminar would get all coaches on the same page.
“Since Gfeller’s passing, more coaches have been focused on the proper techniques of tackling. At the end of the day, we all do this for the kids,” Puryear said. “We are taking every opportunity that we get to better our coaching and improve the game.”