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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014: Class-action suit over soccer safety concerns

   Leading off today: FIFA and its affiliated U.S. soccer organizations are being sued in a class-action lawsuit that alleges a failure to adopt effective policies to evaluate and manage concussions.

   The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California on behalf of a group of parents and players, also names U.S. Youth Soccer and American Youth Soccer. More than 3 million youths play in leagues under the umbrella of the two organizations.

   "The medical community called for change over a decade ago and despite simple, best-practice guidelines -- which have been updated three times since the initial international conference on concussions -- FIFA has failed to enact the policies and rules needed to protect soccer players," lawyer Steve W. Berman, who is bringing the suit, said in a statement. "We believe it is imperative we force these organizations to put a stop to hazardous practices that put players at unnecessary risk."

   The plaintiffs want FIFA and the U.S. organizations to enhance their efforts to detect head injuries and update their guidelines on returning to play after suffering a concussion. They also seek rules regarding heading by players under the age of 17 and a rule change for pro leagues that would allow for substitution of players for medical evaluation purposes -- an exception to FIFA's current maximum of three substitutions per team per game.

   Berman said a dedicated youth player could head the ball as many as 1,000 times a year while a high school player could head the ball as many as 1,800 times.

   "FIFA's and U.S. Soccer's failure to act and protect these young players is no longer acceptable, given the epidemic of concussive injuries and the failure to implement important advances in medical treatments and protocols," said playoffs attorney Derek Howard. "High school soccer players suffer an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of concussions compared to other youth sports."

   According to the Center for Injury Research and Policy, concussions account for a third of the injuries by youth soccer players and are more common in that sport than in basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball combined.

   "The negligence is remarkable given that FIFA actively promotes its activities to children," Berman said. "Yet no rule limits headers in children's soccer and children are often taught to head the ball from the age of 3."

   More on soccer safety: Byram Hills coach Matty Allen, also president of the Section 1 Soccer Coaches Association, is mandating that all of his goalkeepers wear protective helmets and has also extended the requirement to field players with a history of concussions.

   "This was brought to me by a kid whose mother is a physiologist," Allen told The Journal News. "He didn't want to wear it because he was embarrassed, but my compromise with him is that I would have all of (my goalies wear it)," he said. "If I can give them protection, I'm going to do it at the risk of being viewed as soft."

   Goalkeepers are seen as being at greatest risk for head injuries because they frequently navigate against the flow of traffic as opposing forwards and the defenders marking them move though the box.

   While some are sure the helmets have value as protection, the National Federation of State High School Associations remains skeptical.

   "The NFHS does not consider soft or padded headgear products as effective equipment in preventing a concussion in non-helmeted sports," the organization said in a statement. "Valid scientific research should be pursued to more definitively determine evidence-based efficacy regarding using such products to decrease the incidence of concussion."

   The paper said the NFHS also warns against allowing players back early from a concussion if they wear headgear, saying it offers a "false sense of security." football site

   Speaking of injuries: There will be no senior season for Floral Park basketball standout Lorraine Hickman. Hickman, fifth-team all-state in Class A after averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds as a junior, tore an ACL late last month during summer ball in Georgia.

   The good news for Hickman is that the injury did not destroy her college ambitions. Though some of the other minor Division I programs that had shown interest understandably shied away, Hickman had a good visit this month at St. Francis (N.Y.) in Brooklyn, resulting in a verbal commitment, reported.

   Following up: The alert status at Tuckahoe is now closer to DEFCON 5 (i.e., no need for concern) than it is to DEFCON 1 (i.e., war is imminent), but it's still hard to be optimistic about the ongoing viability of any team that lost access to its weight room for half a year and had to resort to using a trophy-case football at practice last week because of an equipment shortage.

   It's difficult to figure out whether the people in charge are guilty of having an agenda or simply not having a clue. A year ago, the district implied it may have found fire in the coaching ranks when no one else could detect even a whiff of smoke. This year, the coach's son has been squeezed off an already small staff -- landing on his feet as an assistant at Archbishop Stepinac, by the way -- in the latest turmoil.

   It was one of the reasons for angry words as the school board meeting this week, and The Journal News shed some light Wednesday on what looks to be some sort of behind-the-scenes power struggle.

   You can catch up on the story here.

   Better late than never? A week ago, Roy C. Ketcham football coach Bill Roos said he "lost three coaches." On Tuesday, the school board approved the appointment of two coaches.

   Joe Luzzi, an Wappingers district assistant athletic coordinator, did not return a phone call from the Poughkeepsie Journal on Tuesday seeking comment and Roos said the administration prohibited him from speaking to the media.

   What makes the situation particularly fascinating is the uncertainty over what role -- if any -- the presence of Ken Barger on the opening-day practice field had in the now-you-don't-see-them, now-you-do status of the other assistant coaches.

   Barger, an accomplished football coach and the head coach at Poughkeepsie from 2005-12, is being investigated by the State Education Department and the Poughkeepsie City School District as part of a probe into whether students were given inappropriate accommodations while taking Regents exams in January 2013, according to the paper. Barger's 18th hearing -- no, that's not a typo -- in the matter was July 10.

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