Playing in pain – who is making call?

By Roger Barbee

In the Sept. 30th issue of the Northern Virginia Daily is an article by Brad Fauber about the exploits in a football game by senior Derrick Smith of Stonewall Jackson High School.

It seems that young Smith “had his left ankle rolled up on three separate occasions…” and “though Smith was hobbled for most of the night by that sprained left ankle, he still battled through the pain and turned in a career game in the Generals’ 35-20 loss.” Smith’s coach, Dick Krol, is quoted in the article: “You can’t ask for more that that [Smith playing through the pain]. He’s a throw-back to the older days, and if at all possible he doesn’t talk to the trainer. He’s afraid the trainer is going to say ‘you can’t,’ and he doesn’t understand that word.”

Krol is also quoted as saying that “He [Smith] does it all, and he’s a great kid. He’s always got a positive attitude about things.”

I don’t know Krol or Derrick, but I believe what the coach says about his young star. I also recognize that his performance last week against Stuarts Draft is an outstanding one for any level of player. And, I understand that Derrick will carry the memory of that game for a long time. However, it may not be the only thing he carries.

The cover story in the Sept. 29 issue of Time is about a high school football player who reads much like Smith. Chad Stover played last season for Tipton High School in Missouri and in the first round of the playoffs, with seven minutes left in a close game, his head bounced off the thigh of the ball carrier and hit the ground. Chad left the game after a time out and twice told an assistant coach that he was well enough to return to the game. In the team huddle, he told a teammate that he felt wobbly and then collapsed. Two weeks later, after being on life support, the 16 year old died from the result of severe brain trauma.

Young athletes do not always make good choices. Our young athletes are encouraged by our culture, especially the football worshiping one, to “man up” and play through pain. That twisted view of being tough is sent to our children by coaches, publications, parents, and schools. Look at the headline of the mentioned Northern Virginia Daily article, “Generals’ Smith fights past pain to career night.” So I ask why glorify such decisions by a coaching staff, the trainer, and the player?

I know that Shenandoah County and Virginia High School League take action to help, as much as possible, prevent injuries to its athletes. I know that medical staff are present at games. That being true, how was Derrick allowed to play on an ankle that had “rolled up on three separate occasions”? Was he able, as Krol is quoted as saying, to not talk to the trainer so that he could stay in the game until there were only 2 minutes left? Was Fauber the only person at the game aware of that fact? What good is all the medical staff and equipment if sound decisions are not made by the adults?

I understand and appreciate Derrick wanting to play, especially in a game that he and his teammates thought they could win. However, that decision should not have been left to him. Some adult should have stepped up and made a better decision for him. Some adult should have taken him out of the game, telling him that his future health and well-being are more important than a football game.

Young Chad died from an injury that is difficult to see. That is tragic. Derrick suffered a rolled ankle, which is easily noticed yet he was allowed to continue playing and his decision is glorified by some in the community. I hope that the only thing Derrick takes from that game is the memory of a spectacular night. I hope that if he ever jumps from a deer stand, his left ankle does not buckle. I hope that, if he ever has children, he will be able to run and play with them.

If you are one who agrees with the coach, that it is admirable to be “a throw-back to the older days,” I suggest you look around at the many old ones who hobble through each day because of “playing through pain.”

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.