Mother of Ocala football player warns of head trauma

Parents of kids in all contact sports should be aware of dangers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An Ocala mom is warning parents about the risks of contact sports for kids.

Courtney Sapp shared her son's painful concussion story with the hopes it will prevent the same heartbreak they've struggled with for months. She said it makes her sick to see the video of her 15-year-old getting tackled, his head bouncing off the ground. No one pulled him from the game until it was too late. Now he has brain damage.

The video of a J.V. game in Ocala shows Payton Sapp getting tackled, and going down hard. When viewed in slow motion, his head clearly bounces off the ground. Shaken, he does eventually get up.  No one pulls him from the game to see if he's OK.

"I understand that they're coaching, but part of that job is keeping our children safe," Courtney Sapp said. "I think that's more important."

A referee eventually pulled him from the game.

In the days that followed, the pain in his head from the concussion was so intense he contemplated suicide.

"His pain level was an 8, 9, 10 every day," she said.

Unrelenting for six months, and nothing doctors were doing was dulling the pain. They think his injury was from back-to-back concussions.

"I've never heard about second impact syndrome and that your child can receive a concussion and get hit in the head a second time before the concussion healed, and the brain can instantaneously swell and they can either become brain dead or they can die immediately," she said. "Its not something that was never ever explained to us like that."

Sapp says she thinks parents just aren't aware of the severity of concussions.

Her son had been playing football since he was a little boy.

The night of the game, the team was 5-0, trying to keep the winning streak alive. That's a lot of pressure on the players and the coaching staff.

"Coaches are not medically trained," said Bob Sefcik, Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program executive director. "They are put in an awkward situation of having to make medical decisions at that time without having medical knowledge."

Sefick said that every school should have a certified athletic trainer who can make the sometimes tough call to bench a player who is hurt, regardless of the scoreboard.

There was not one on the sidelines when Payton got hurt, raising the question: Who is really watching for injuries?

"Every video that we have seen of Payton in the past or now, no one is watching the quarterback," Sefcik said. "They're watching the ball, so every child who is in the backfield when the ball is being thrown, they're not being seen."

Which means if an athlete gets hit, no one on the sidelines or in the stands may even see if a player needs to be taken out of the game and evaluated. Many players may not say anything to their coach because they don't want to disappoint the team by asking to be taken out.

Payton Sapp has given up football.

While he hopes the damage to his brain is not permanent, he still has terrible migraines from the concussion.

Sefcik offered a number of important questions for parents to ask at their schools:

  • Who comprises the school’s sports medicine team? Who provides care when an injury occurs, both initially and for follow-ups?
  • Are there Emergency Actions Plans in place? Are they venue specific? Are these plans posted? Are they rehearsed?
  • Are the equipment and sports facilities checked frequently and in good shape?
  • Are the policies and procedures in place following the latest in best practices and research?

There are some signs of potential concussions parents should watch out for with their children:

  • Appears dazed or stunned.
  • Forgets an instruction, is confused about an assignment or position, or is unsure of the game, score, or opponent.
  • Moves clumsily.
  • Answers questions slowly. Loses consciousness (even briefly).
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes.
  • Can’t recall events prior to or after a hit or fall.

Additionally, some of the symptoms reported by teens with concussions include:

  • Headache or “pressure” in head. Nausea or vomiting.
  • Balance problems or dizziness, or double or blurry vision.
  • Bothered by light or noise. Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy.
  • Confusion, or concentration or memory problems. Just not “feeling right,” or “feeling down.”


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