GW Graham coach Luke Acheson ushers players through non-contact drills during a GW Graham football practice last week. Grizzly players will benefit from a progressive concussion diagnosis and treatment program.

GW Graham coach Luke Acheson ushers players through non-contact drills during a GW Graham football practice last week. Grizzly players will benefit from a progressive concussion diagnosis and treatment program.

GW Graham football focusing on concussions

The fledgling GW Graham Grizzlies football team will have an impressive medical team backing them.

Doctor Josh Greggain loves his football.

He’s a big fan of the NFL.

He married a Seattle girl, with Seahawk fandom a part of the package

The last three years he’s coached with Chilliwack Minor Football.

Greggain loves a good hit just as much as the next guy and a smile crosses his face when he recalls Marshawn Lynch going beast-mode on the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 NFL playoffs.

The fan side of him loves that stuff.

The doctor side, not so much.

That side knows the price players pay for making those hits — how the impact of a helmet on helmet blow can rival the impact of a car accident.

Guys like Lynch are well compensated, and increasingly well aware, of the risks they take.

Come September, Greggain will be on the sideline as a bunch of Grade 8 and 9 boys play their first football for GW Graham.

They are not well compensated and they all think they’re invincible.

They do have one thing in common with the pros.

They have a small army of medical professionals looking out for them.

Greggain is one.

Doctors Jenn Turner and Michael Gaetz are the others. It will be their job to keep the boys healthy, with a particular emphasis on concussion diagnosis, assessment and treatment.

“Concussions have become a huge priority for sports in general over the last five years, with athletes like Eric Lindros and Sidney Crosby making a huge impact on awareness,” Greggain said.

A big part of the concussion strategy will be a tie in with the University of the Fraser Valley.

Gaetz is a professor of kinesiology and physical education at UFV, and has spent many years studying concussions.

Gaetz made concussions the subject of a doctoral thesis at Simon Fraser University, focusing on junior hockey players.

With the UFV campus relocating to the Garrison Crossing area in the near future,   Gaetz will be making his concussion lab available to GWG.

The lab can assess neuropsychological, neurophysiological, physiological and cognitive function, as well as balance.

Greggain, a family and emergency room physician at Hope’s Fraser Canyon Hospital, said the lab offers the type of testing that is usually unique to big money professional teams.

“With the lab, we can get more than just information about how the kid is feeling, which is completely subjective,” Greggain said. “I can give an opinion based on subjective information. But if Michael can test an athletes and say, ‘He scored this in the preseason, and now he scores this and his balance is off,’ that tells me that athlete is not ready to play.”

Concussions can be easy to spot.

A wide receiver takes big hit from safety coming across the middle, and you can safely assume some damage was done.

“In a case like that, the players will be evaluated on the sideline by myself, Jenn or one of the athletic trainers,” Greggain explained. “We’ve got a series of standardized questions and a brief physical examination that will identify a concussion. Once they’re evaluated, they are followed up. Because we’ll have the luxury of UFV’s baseline testing, we’ll know where they were in the preseason. Once they’re back where they should be, only then will they be cleared to play.”

Obvious concussions are obvious, but studies have shown it’s not just the big hits that cause problems.

It’s the cumulative effects of play after play — an offensive lineman will fire into a defensive lineman X amounts of time per game, generating force with each collision.

“This is stuff that, not only do I not know the answer to but I don’t know that anyone in sports does yet,” Greggain noted. “Inviting UFV into the conversation and doing the testing helps a lot. We will have tangible testing that tells us the cumulative effects of all these ‘mild’ injuries. If this program can help us now, while also helping athletes and teams in the future, hopefully we follow these kids for four or five seasons and get a lot more info about concussions.”

Where five years ago a player might have taken a hit and written off the resulting dizziness and headaches as ‘having his bell rung,’ Greggain feels sports are finally moving out of the dark ages.

“Going back 25 years ago, some of the guys I coach with talk about their high school experiences, where they were so concussed on a Monday morning at school that they couldn’t even carry their own textbooks,” he said. “At that time, no one knew and no one thought twice about it. Are we out of the dark ages? I’ll call this the renaissance.”

Greggain will be on the sideline as often as possible this fall, and he’ll enjoy the return of high school football to Chilliwack for the first time since the late 1970s.

But he’ll do so with a purpose.

“I love the game for the intensity of it, for a bunch of reasons,” he said. “The kids choose to play football, so it’s our job to make sure they play in the safest environment possible.”

Contact Greggain at jgreggain@gmail.com.

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