Part two of the Greenwich Post's series on concussions: A view from parents, coaches and athletes

Please note: This is the second of three articles on concussions in athletics. The previous article on concussions could be found on Greenwich-post.com.

In the quest for student athletes to become bigger, faster and stronger than ever before, the hits have become harder and the athletes are pushing themselves to the limits, whether in practice or doing a game.

In the first part of this series, the focus was put on what’s a concussion, how it could affect the athlete, both on and off the field, and what some of the signs of a concussion are.

However, in order to get a better idea on what athletes, parents and coaches go through immediately after that bone-crushing hit or massive collision, it’s best to hear from people that have been affected by concussions.

Greenwich resident Doug Brown recently graduated form Greenwich High School and is currently attending the Miami of Ohio. While as a member of the Cardinals, Brown was very big into athletics, competing on the hard-nosed Greenwich High football team his freshman and sophomore years and the highly-prestigious GHS rugby team from his sophomore to senior years.

Currently, Brown is attending Miami of Ohio. However, he will not be found on the gridiron or on the tossing a rugby ball for the school. Sustaining a concussion in his sophomore through senior years at GHS with the rugby team ended all possibilities of suiting up for competition.

“I am very pleased that I stopped playing when I did,” Brown said. “I didn’t want anything else to happen to me and I didn’t want to end up a vegetable. I am very thankful for my decision. My family was a big part of my decision not to play and my mom and dad weren’t going to let me play in the last game of the season. I am now thankful that they talked me out of it.”

During his sophomore year, Brown was playing rugby and didn’t even remember getting hit, but had a nasty headache and wasn’t feeling like himself. He went to the GHS trainer, took a couple of tests and was diagnosed with a concussion.

“I didn’t know what to do because I know that concussions are very serious. I was out of school for a week,” Brown said. “Mainly I had the headaches, but I felt very woozy a lot, nauseous and had trouble seeing. My vision was very blurry for the first 10 days.”

Brown sustained a concussion again, both his junior and senior seasons. While all three were bad, Brown really wanted to get back on the field during his final year on the rugby team, to battle rival Xavier and go for another state championship just one more time.

“I got a concussion before we played against our rivals Xavier,” Brown said. “I really wanted to play because it was the biggest game of the season. I kept telling myself that I would be able to get in and just to tell the coaches that I am fine. I started having headaches every single day and that made things very serious for me.”

Sarah Brown, Doug’s mother, said that concussions are a very scary situation to be in, both for the athlete and parent. Thankfully the GHS trainer was on-hand for all three concussions.

“It was very helpful to have someone right there working with the kids,” Sarah Brown said. “It’s a very difficult position to be in because you are so worried about your child and you’re also thinking about what is the next step.”

Another example of what a concussion could do was with Bryan Latorraca. The Stamford resident and St. Luke’s athlete is a junior for the Dragons this year and is hoping this athletic season would be better than the past.

Latorraca is coming off two concussions in two months, which had Latorraca, and his entire family, concerned.

“It changed my point of view,” Latorraca said. “It’s scary to go 100%, and you want to go, but you don’t want to get hit again. You just have to practice a lot of things and make sure you don’t get hit. I am now playing football and it’s scary, but I know I can’t put my head down and have to be more cautious. I also train a lot harder on my neck because studies show that if you strengthen your neck, there is less of a chance of a concussion.”

Latorraca’s first concussion happened during his sophomore year at St. Luke’s. Working on some plays during football practice, Latorraca went helmet-to-helmet on several consecutive occasions.

“I should have stopped after the first one,” Latorraca said. “It got worse and I started to get dizzy. I felt nauseous and didn’t know what was really going on. I hit helmet-to-helmet the fourth time and I was out of it. I passed out and couldn’t even walk off the field. I laid down, I couldn’t really see and I had to shut the lights and had to lay there.”

The next day, Latorraca couldn’t attend classes because he couldn’t look at the light and his head was in agony. Latorraca said he was foggy and didn’t know what was happening. That feeling lasted for close to six weeks.

“I went back to school, but not fully,” Latorraca said. “I went to certain classes and did work that I had to do, but it was tough. When my head hurt a lot, I had to stop. The teachers and school were very understanding.”

Bryan’s mother, Sally Latorraca, said that concussions are now starting to come to light, but thinks there is still a lot of mystery to them.

“It’s scary, frightening and you’re not sure what’s going on,” Sally Latorraca, said. “Concussions are still vague. You’re looking at your child, who is in a fog or daze, and they look normal and sound normal. Then, all of a sudden, they get those glassy eyes and can’t focus as they used to. It was difficult to get my arms around it to figure out what was wrong and understand what was wrong and how to help him.”

Once Bryan Latorraca got clearance to compete in athletics again, he returned to play basketball, but that only lasted two games. On the third game, he got an elbow to the head and immediately fell to the floor.

“I blacked out when the trainer asked me when my birthday was, I could only say April,” Bryan Latorraca said. “I also had no clue what happened. That one was a lot tougher to recover from than the first one. I could barely see. I couldn’t look at a computer screen or the TV. I couldn’t talk on the phone because I heard ringing in my ears and the noise on the phone was just painful.”

“Coaches have to be very understanding when it comes to concussions,” Sally Latorraca said. “I am very lucky that all the coaches were great to Bryan and was never pressured to get back on the field.”

While parents and athletes feel the pain of a concussion, coaches also are doing their best to prevent such an injury.

“As a coach, you’re looking for the long-term future of the kids,” Greenwich High School head coach Danny Simpson, who has won two FCIAC championships with his varsity girls soccer team. “When you see a kid go down with an injury, you always feel awful, but when you see a kid go down with a concussion, you always fear the worst.”

While Simpson believes people are more aggressive and are getting stronger and faster every season, he also believes that the style of play, in both athletics and general play, has changed.

“I think there is a change in how kids play sports,” Simpson said. “Not just in sports, but play in general. I think kids don’t get taught at a young age, and need to be taught now, is how to fall. Years ago, kids would fall out of a tree from climbing or fall off of something, but would be active and know how to roll. Kids today don’t seem to be as active. They don’t go through the woods as much or climb trees. I see a lot of awkwardness. Players are going to the ground, but instead of rolling, they are colliding with the floor and whip lashing their neck.”

While concussions are an issue in athletics, people are getting more aware of what concussions can do to athletes and aren’t pushing their limits when it comes to head injuries.

Doug Brown now knows his limits. When playing in a pick-up football or rugby game, he tells his friends to go easy on him.

“Even a slight hit on my head could give me another concussion,” Brown said. “Concussions are very serious. Make sure you are aware of what concussions can do to you. If you do have one, do some research on it, because they are very extreme and could become very deadly.”

Sally Latorraca couldn’t agree more with Doug Brown, as she believes her child knows how far he can push himself.

“Now he tends to know his limits, but it’s important for kids to realize that they can pull themselves off the field, even it’s for a breather as soon as it happens,” Sally Latorraca said. “In Bryan’s case, it could have been avoided by pulling himself out after the first hit and stayed out for a few minutes and went back in.”

In the third part of this three-part series on concussions, the focus will shift to how some of the ways to test for a possible concussion and some of ways to recover. Check back here Tuesday for the finale of the series on concussions.

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