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From Mercury News.com:

The first apparent concussion happened sometime during a football game early last season, and Joey De Stefano did his best to ignore it. He kept trying to tough it out, even after another jarring hit in practice the following week left him nauseated and dizzy.

But the effects became so noticeable to his Leigh High coaches in a game 10 days later that they took De Stefano's helmet away so he couldn't leave the sideline. After the game, he couldn't recall where he had parked his car. He didn't even remember who had won the game, and his worried mom took him to the hospital.

As a new high school season kicks off, it does so without De Stefano, a senior who still suffers from headaches and neck pain. He hopes to be a cautionary tale for other teenagers about the dangers of football-related concussions.

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High school football conjures up all-American images of Friday night lights and homecoming games. Nationally, 1.2 million teens strap on helmets each fall.

Another tradition: boys pleading with moms to sign the permission slip to let them play. Football always has been a risky game. But the stakes have risen dramatically with the growing research into head trauma's long-term effects.

"If you had to, you could replace a knee or an elbow or a shoulder," said Dr. Robert Cantu, a leading authority on sports head trauma. "But you can't replace the brain. If you have a permanent impairment to the brain, that's life-altering."

Once downplayed as "having your bell rung," concussions are brain injuries that in some cases, if not treated properly, can lead to dementias and other problems such as depression.

Kids also are more susceptible to concussions than adults, and they take longer to recover. Yet Comstock, principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy, is alarmed by one study that found 40 percent of high school athletes return to their sport before they have recovered.

Part of that is the nature of the injury -- it is unseen. Then there's the ethos of football. Players are taught, from the earliest age, the importance of adopting a warrior mentality, overcoming adversity and pain, and refusing to let down the team.

Read the entire article.

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