Varsity football injuries raise concerns

Ricki De La Torre, a junior at Laguna Beach High School and lineman on the varsity football team, was recently put back into play after sustaining a serious injury on the field, a decision that resulted in a staph infection in his muscle and possible bone infection, his mother, Denise, the Football Booster Treasurer, reported to the Laguna Beach Unified School District at Tuesday's board meeting.

"The infection was severe enough to require intravenous antibiotics, hospitalization and a long-term treatment program," she said.

Having personally recorded 25 injuries on the football field so far this year, De La Torre expressed concern about many of these young football players being put back into play without adequate assessment of their injuries, which could result in more serious conditions, even paralysis or death.

She reported that another child was hospitalized last month with a punctured spleen, after sustaining an injury on the field and being diagnosed by the school's athletic trainer as having "bruised ribs." He was put into play three more times after the injury occurred.

"This child's parent made the decision to take him to the hospital, where they discovered that he was actually bleeding out and in complete shock with a punctured spleen," she said. "He subsequently contracted a secondary infection, which put him in the intensive care unit for five days.

"This child could have lost his life."

In response to a prior incident where a football player was knocked unconscious and put back into play, De La Torre said she and another Booster parent held a meeting in September with Head Coach Jonathan Todd, LBHS Principal Don Austin and Assistant Supt. of Instructional Services Nancy Hubbell, to discuss a protocol that would ensure that athletes are properly diagnosed on the field, pulled from play immediately following an injury and sent for appropriate medical care.

The two aforementioned hospitalizations occurred after this meeting, she said.

"I understand that football is a violent sport and as a parent, I do understand that we signed consent forms allowing our children to play," she said. "What I did not consent to was negligent practices that compromise the safety of my child or any other child.

"This includes inadequate assessment of injuries, training and emergency responses, as well as improperly maintained or unfit equipment and untrained medical personnel on the field to assess injuries."

De La Torre questioned why the District recently provided funds to install a $70,000 sound system at Guyer Field, but has not allocated funds to provide proper safety protocol, despite so many recent injuries and requests from parents.

She also requested that the Board, which is responsible for allocating funds to the sport, hire an outside sports management professional to access LBHS' football program, including injury management and strength and conditioning programs.

"Football is a wonderful sport and great team-building experience, and Coach Todd is a great model who has been an important part of my son's life," she said. "He relies on you [the district] to allocate sufficient funds and make sure safety guidelines and measures are in place at our school.

"These are our childrens' lives, and no price can be put on that."

Board of Education chairwoman Ketta Brown said the board could not comment on the allegations, which were made during public comment and were not on the agenda.

In response to a query to the district from the Coastline Pilot, Supt. Sherine Smith said her office would look into the matter.

"We take Miss De La Torre's concerns very seriously," Smith said. "My staff and I will look into it and will follow up with any appropriate measures that we need to."

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