Rowan Stringer’s parents help Rugby Canada launch...
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Jan 30, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Rowan Stringer’s parents help Rugby Canada launch PlaySmart concussion awareness program

The national sport body’s new player welfare program — spurned by the death of high school rugby captain Rowan Stringer — aims to increase awareness regarding brain injuries


Taking a hit and staying in the game is a gutsy quality long valued in contact sports, and it’s something that is encouraged — overtly and otherwise — in athletes from an early age.

But the more medical science learns about sports injuries and how the human brain functions, it has become clear that with some hits, the right thing to do is walk off the field and head to the bench.

But getting athletes and coaches to recognize that requires increased awareness about the dangers of untreated brain injuries and a culture shift within contact sports, Rugby Canada officials say.

The national sport body’s new player welfare program — spurned by the death of high school rugby captain Rowan Stringer — aims to do both.

PlaySmart, launched Saturday at the national rugby conference, requires all club coaches and officials to complete World Rugby’s online modules about safety and concussion management annually and recommends everyone else involved in rugby, including athletes and parents, also complete them.

Stringerr died after landing hard on her head during a match in May 2013. She was 17.

A coroner’s inquest determined that two other hits to her head in the week prior to that fatal one contributed to her death from second impact syndrome.

Stringer, like many athletes, downplayed the first two knocks to her head and continued to play despite concussion-like symptoms. She knew just enough about concussions that she did not tell her parents or coach about how she was feeling for fear they wouldn’t let her play in the upcoming game.

She likely didn’t realize the risk she was taking. And neither did her friends at John McCrae Secondary School in Ottawa, who researched the subject of concussions with her before that final game but didn’t come across any information on the danger of playing with a concussion.

Her parents hope that PlaySmart — combined with Rowan’s Law, which is working its way through the provincial legislature — will ensure youngsters will have access to that kind of information.

“It needs to start with the education of kids, and when they’re young,” Gord Stringer said.

They point to their older daughter, 23-year-old Cassie, who was raised in an era of anti-drunk driving campaigns and would never consider driving after drinking.

“It becomes part of what they do, looking after themselves and each other,” Kathleen Stringer said.

That’s what they hope Rowan’s Law, which could be voted on before the summer, will do for concussion awareness.

If passed, Rowan’s Law would mandate concussion education in Ontario’s school curriculum and do more to ensure that young athletes who suffer concussions are identified and don’t return to play until they’ve received medical clearance.

The Stringers spoke of their assertive daughter, who had “a gleam in her eye” when she played rugby, to a ballroom full of rugby coaches and officials from across the country just before PlaySmart was launched.

The Stringers have never blamed anyone for their daughter’s death, and were in fact horrified when a parent came up to them after her funeral to say she’d brought her son to show how dangerous rugby was so he’d never want to play.

“It’s not about wrapping your kids in bubbles — it’s about making sure they’re aware of the consequences of what can happen and how to take care of themselves,” Gord Stringer said.

Rugby — the traditional 15s game and the faster seven-a-side version making its Olympic debut in Rio — is a contact sport. No one wants to change that, but coaches do have a responsibility to keep players safe and change attitudes, particularly around injuries, Dustin Hopkins, Canada Rugby’s manager of national development, said.

“Is it safe? Not what we think might have been safe 25 years ago, but what is safe now,” Hopkins said.

“Recognize and remove. If in doubt, sit them out,” he said, repeating the watchwords the organization wants ingrained in coaches.

And for athletes “it should become second nature to say ‘I need off.’ That’s the culture change we need,” he said. “You can’t change culture overnight but, certainly, with collective effort you can change it.”

Toronto Star

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