Six high school football players died from injuries suffered on the playing field in 1999, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.
Another 12 young men -- including 11 high school players and one playing in a sandlot game -- also died, but their deaths came from heart failure and other conditions tied to exertion, not football directly.
"All six direct fatalities resulted from injuries to the brain," said Dr. Frederick Mueller, professor and chair of exercise and sport science at UNC-CH. "We found two heatstroke deaths in 1999 and 13 over the past five years. These deaths make no sense since proper precautions probably would have prevented them."
As chairman of the American Football Coaches' Committee on Football Injuries, Mueller directs the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries, based at UNC-CH. Each year, the center produces reports on deaths and severe injuries from amateur and professional sports.
Reports are based partly on newspaper stories from around the United States, along with information from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Federation of State High School Associations and about 150 volunteers who monitor sports accidents.
Seven high school boys and one college player were paralyzed last year, Mueller said. For the first time, a girl playing school football was paralyzed, but officials at O.L. Slaton Junior High in Lubbock, Texas, said she has mostly recovered from the injury. The boy who tackled her was 40 pounds heavier than she was.
Last year, 708 U.S. girls played football on boys' school teams, the UNC-CH professor said.
"Coaches need to remind players to keep the head out of football," Mueller said. "No player should make first contact with his head when blocking and tackling."
During steamy weather, shorter practices and non-contact drills without helmets also help reduce accidents and prevent heatstroke, he
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill