Over the past few years, Park City has hotly debated what form school expansion should take in our community. The 2015 school bond was somewhat derailed by questions about athletic facilities. Where should the football field go? Should we have a field house? If we move Dozier field, then we can expand the high school west but if not, then we are limited in the directions we can expand. Those are just some of the discussions that occurred.
Amid all the discussions surrounding Park City school expansion, there is one question we haven’t heard asked. “Will we need Dozier field at all in 10 years?”
If you have 45 minutes this weekend, we’d recommend you listen to a radio segment called Is it Time to Sack Football from WAMU radio. The segment features Cindy Feasel, who’s husband played in the NFL and died from complications related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which appears to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It also features Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was the doctor who discovered CTE and was played in the movie Concussion by Will Smith.
While the issue of concussions and their long term effects in the NFL has been discussed greatly, those concerns have been largely dismissed by many as the price of fortune and fame. What hasn’t been discussed as much is the impact of head injuries on high school students.
The program makes a number of points. For every concussion in the NFL, there are 800 concussions in high school. This is due both to the larger number of children playing football and that high school football can be less safe (i.e. unrestricted practice times, older equipment, no or less qualified trainers, etc.). So there is more prevalence of head injuries in high school football.
Second, Dr. Omalu sites a study from Sweden where they looked at 40 million children over 42 years. They found that children who had ONE or more concussions were four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
Third, there is no such thing as a safe helmet. They pointed out that helmets are used to help prevent skull fractures, which can be life threatening. However, even very advanced helmets won’t prevent many concussions.
Fourth, it’s a public issue. Because our publicly funded schools provide football to children, and football has been linked to brain injuries, there may come a time when school can’t morally justify offering sports which have been shown to harm children.
Please don’t take this as a call from the Park Rag that Park City should no longer offer football. It’s much more complicated than that. However, we do believe that there is a strong possibility that in ten years Park City High School may no longer offer football. This could be from liability issues. It could be legislated by the state. Perhaps even our new Assistant Superintendent of Mental Health may look at the research and decide it’s too much of a risk.
This brings us back to Dozier field. Our current Master Planning process is trying to determine how we need to expand our schools to accommodate the next 20-30 years of students. Imagine how that process changes if there is no football. One of the main reasons for having Dozier Field would be gone. Sure, other sports utilize the field, but do they really need a stadium? Sure graduation uses the stadium (barring a freak summer snow storm), but that is one day a year.
It seems like a long term plan that includes the possibility that Dozier will be dozed opens up some interesting alternatives. It may enable us to defer some decisions until we really understand what long term growth patterns will look like. It might provide space for the Uber-Fieldhouse desired by some. It may provide space for additional classrooms or a new type of educational space altogether.
The future is always unclear but we believe that any master planning process should at least factor in certain possibility that we won’t need Dozier anymore. Is Dozier used in a number of different ways? Yes. The question becomes, if football goes away, is the stadium the best use of space for our students? Maybe or maybe not.
Again, we are not calling for the end of football in Park City. We are only asking to discuss the possibility and what that may mean for our school needs. There may come a time when kids playing tackle football seems as crazy as kids smoking. Maybe high school football will switch to flag football. Will we want or needs a stadium for that? Who knows… but it’s worth discussing.
Since we are trying to predict the next twenty year of school needs, we should likely factor the impact of brain injuries on our students and what that means for the future of football in Park City. That discussion should heavily influence our master planning process as we look at how to best serve the needs of our children.