Parents divided on football safety

Parents of football players at Laguna Beach High School are divided about whether the program is safe.

At a time when the threat of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a potentially fatal bacterium, on high school football fields and in locker rooms has been in the news, some parents are worried about allegations of a lack of precautions being taken to protect student players.

Others defend the athletic department and say the district is taking all of the proper safety measures.

Denise De La Torre, football booster treasurer and mother of a junior lineman, recently presented her concerns to the Laguna Beach Unified School District after allegedly witnessing football players being put back into play with injuries, and after her own son contracted staph after being cleared to play with a misdiagnosed injury.

"We saw several doctors for weeks, trying to figure out what was wrong with my son," she said. "He was later diagnosed with staph infection in his muscle and possibly his bone. He's still being treated with antibiotics and after three weeks, his blood test results are still not normal.

"My intention is not to create any problems for the football team or staff; I just want to inform parents about the dangers of staph, and convince the board to fund and implement a better safety protocol so this doesn't happen to another child."

De La Torre is pushing for training and conditioning to prevent injuries that are more prevalent with turf fields, a full-time athletic trainer to properly assess injuries, as opposed to a volunteer orthopedic surgeon who isn't able to attend all of the games, thorough cleaning and maintenance of the potentially bacteria-ridden field, and a better chain of communication so that when injuries occur, players are immediately sent for medical attention so injuries don't have time to progress.

Jude Martinez, who said he's attended every game and whose son, Elijah, received a concussion during a game early in the season, said he supports the protocol that is in place.

"The trainer pulled him out of play for the remainder of the game and recommended that we seek medical attention," he said. "The physician confirmed that Elijah had a concussion and said he should sit out for a week. The coaches had no problem complying with this."

Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said her child sustained further injury due to a breakdown in communication among the coaching staff.

"The volunteer orthopedic surgeon said my son might have internal bleeding after he took a painful hit on the field, and that he should seek immediate medical attention," she said. "But he didn't communication this to the coach, and I was unable to pull my son away to take him to the hospital right away.

"There needs to be a better chain of command."

De La Torre said her doctor told her that players who are healing from injuries are more susceptible to infection, which puts those who are playing with substantial injuries at greater risk. Furthermore, the threat of bacterial infections on artificial fields is even greater, the Los Angeles County of Public Health states.

In a letter addressed to another concerned parent, Norma Shelton, Asst. Supt. of Business Services at LBUSD, stated that the LBHS field was sanitized in the summer of 2009 and the treatment lasts two years.

Milo George of Professional Sports Field Services LLC in Ohio, a manufacturer that distributes a similar treatment to the NFL, said there is no treatment that keeps artificial fields safe for that duration of time.

"Even with the 'two-year' treatments, fields still need to be cleaned regularly to rid them of bacteria on the surface," he said.

Another parent, who also requested anonymity, said her daughter, a soccer player at the high school, complained of seeing vomit on the field.

"So we know it's not being properly cared for," she said.

De La Torre said she has talked to other parents who are equally as concerned, but who are afraid to come forward because they don't want to see the football program shut down.

"A lot of these parents are counting on college football scholarships," she said. "None of us want to see that happen; we just want to protect the safety of our kids."

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