It was just supposed to be fun, a football game with the neighborhood kids in front of the house.
The quarterback tapped Jason Clements to receive the ball.
“The ball was thrown and Jason was back-peddling to catch it …. He tripped and fell backwards, unable to break his fall,” his mother, Michelle Clements, says.
Jason didn’t get up right away and when he did, he staggered a bit and fell, she says. In that one play, the Plainfield teen became one of the millions of kids injured playing sports. He suffered a skull fracture and internal bleeding between his brain and skull.
The effects linger. Though he remains in honor classes, the injury has left him with an Individual Education Plan and he struggles in subjects he once breezed through.
Sports-related injuries send nearly 2.6 million children and young adults to the emergency rooms every year. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number of actual injuries related to sports closer to 3.8 million.
It’s those kinds of injuries that worried Sue Kosmowski, of Lockport, when her kids started playing sports. Her oldest son, now 15, plays football, baseball and basketball. Her middle son, 12, plays baseball, basketball, track and volleyball while her daughter, 9, is just starting out with swimming and basketball.
“I’ve seen children hit with a pitch and one of our son’s friends was hit in the face while a teammate was practicing swinging a bat.” Kosmowski says the impact shattered the boy’s nose and teeth, requiring extensive surgery.
“It makes you really nervous while you watch them play. I worry, but I know that not having my kids in sports does not mean they will be safe.”
Christi Smith of Minooka says worrying about injuries is no reason to keep your kids from playing sports. Between her personal life and her professional life, serving seven years as a head coach for a local junior high school track and field program, she has seen a fair number of injuries.
Parents just need to take precautions to make sure their kids are playing safely, she says.
“Many of the injuries kids are getting from sports can be prevented or lessened with the proper equipment and conditioning,” Smith says. “Muscle strains and pulls can be almost completely eliminated with the proper stretches and when the body is conditioned correctly.”
That is one of the reasons she started Pro-Motion Sports in Channahon to strengthen kids in the off season and prepare them for in-season demands.
Parents afraid to sign their children up for organized sports, opting for them to play on the sidelines instead, need to compare the games, Smith says.
With organized sports, you are playing on the field, in full protective gear under the watchful eye of a referee. Everyone knows the rules and teams have been matched up by size, age and experience. With the neighborhood or sandlot games, you have kids of all sizes and levels, with no protective gear, playing by a combination of rules.
Clements understands the difference.
“It is such a hard line between wanting to protect your child and allowing them to be a‘normal’ kid,” Clements says. “Jason’s story is an eye-opener. We don’t think about the dangers when they are playing at home. But kids can be just as competitive as in the organized game.”
Jean Dunning covers the South and Southwest suburbs of Chicago for Chicago Parent. If you have story ideas or would like to be a part of the South/Southwest Parent Source e-mail list, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.