THV11 devoted a week in July to taking a look at concussions in football from many different perspectives. As more stories air on THV11, they'll be added to this article.
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White Hall Pee-Wee Football is building a monster.
"He crosses that field goal, touch down line, ya know… Just the joy in his face," said Deaidra Bell of her son, Melo. "I think I'm one of the loudest moms in the stands cheering."
Melo Bell could be Arkansas' next Darren McFadden, but last October his dreams vanished for a moment while running the ball to the left at White Hall Stadium when he hit his opponent head-on, helmet-to-helmet.
Melo hit the ground and laid there lifeless for seven minutes.
Melo's dad, Dishawn Bell said, "It almost seemed like a lifetime, from me running across the field to where he was at in the scene."
His mom recalled, "I see him get hit and don't move and time just stopped. And my heart stopped. I am just saying to myself, 'baby please get up.'"
Melo suffered a severe concussion, forcing him to sit out for two weeks.
Darrell Nesmith, director of the Concussion Clinic at the Arkansas Children's Hospital, says they've noticed an increase in the number of children experiencing concussions.
"It doesn't surprise me that a child that age would take a little bit longer to recover from their injury than an older athlete simply because the brain is not fully developed," Nesmith said.
While it'd be easy to tell Melo he can't play football, they've decided to let him suit up this season. Many pee-wee leagues wear helmets over and over again. Now, Melo wears a fitted helmet that is brand new. He also wears extra gear like rib pads and neck pads.
Nesmith stressed how important it is to have your child's helmet sized so that it fits their head correctly. He says that's the root of many of these concussions.
THV11's Craig O'Neill sat down with Benton author Carla McClafferty to talk about her book, "Fourh Down and Inches," which is aimed at middle school students, and making sure their aware of the effects of concussions. See that interview: http://on.kthv.com/1nDgnAr
Coaches say learning how to properly tackle in youth league age needs to become second nature.
When 12-year-old Cainin Whisenant plays football, getting hurt doesn't cross his mind. His mom, Danielle Bell, on the other hand, thanks about every time one of her three sons gets hit.
Bell says they get up after being hit because of the coaching. "The way they practice they do drills all the time on the proper way, the proper technique to hit."
Eric Pruitt with Morrilton Little Pup Football said, "I think it's about how you go about teaching and coaching and being aware of the safety of your kids."
Pruitt is "Heads Up" certified.
"Heads Up teaches coaches and parents about concussion symptoms. Here's the catch: Sometimes they don't show up until hours or days after a hit. That's where parents come in."
Life Champs Youth Sports Director Rickey Williams says all their coaches need to be "Heads Up" certified. And, parents should be too.
Williams said, "Concussions are a major thing, and it can impact your child for the rest of his life."
Williams played for the University of Arkansas. Now, his son plays football too.
Life Champs Youth Sports Director Rickey Williams explains why it's so important to teach children about helmet safety.
"The NFL has taken a heads-on approach to start at the youth level. They're taking your head out of the game."
They're doing this to keep young brains protected, so kids like Cainin can think about and pursue their dreams.
He said, "I'd like to be an NFL player."
THV11's Alyssa Raymond took the "Heads Up" online training course. It only takes 30 minutes.
She said she learned about how to recognize a concussion, what to do, and how to recover.
Take the course here:
It's been five months since THV11 first surveyed football helmets at 27 local high schools. Our analysis found North Little Rock was using some low-ranking helmets that could put students at greater risk of concussions.
Yes, it's summer break, but every weekday morning from 6 to 8, you'll find 123 North Little Rock High School football players training.
"Friday nights it pays off. You know we win a lot," says 17-year-old Jaelon Scott. "My uncle got me in little league when I was like 7."
Scott is now the captain of the Charging Wildcats.
"You have to help the other teammates up when they are down."
As for avoiding concussions, assistant coach Blake Pizan says teaching proper training is a top priority.
"When a kid gets dinged for you, they're out."
In February, THV11 discovered the district was equipping some of their players with helmets considered among the worst. The safety findings were based off a Virginia Tech study which measured the impact absorbed by each helmet.
Nineteen of the Wildcat's helmets earned low ratings, which researchers say could put players at a higher risk of a head injury.
Athletic Director Gary Davis promised change.
PREVIOUS STORY: Arkansas high school's helmet safety ratings (http://on.kthv.com/1fswPtp)
"We will do all we can, within reason, to make sure our students and our student athletes are best equipped," said Davis in February.
So, with a new football season just weeks away, THV11 showed up unannounced to follow up.
Assistant Coach Pizan showed us those 19 helmets. They're boxed up and are clearly not being used.
"We are trying to develop young men for the future, for college and their whole entire life. So doing something we can do as coaches to protect them. That is what it is all about," he says.
On average, the district purchases 10 new helmets a year. This year, they've ordered 40 along with 30 concussion sensors. The total cost was just over $16,000. The new inventory will here in less than two weeks.
**Note: The database does not reflect the new helmets that have been ordered**
Davis adds, "The Virginia Tech study just kind of opened our eyes. Each year things get better. It's like what was good for your iphone today, 6 months ago is obsolete."
And for players like Austin Blair, "I have been playing since middle school, since 7th grade."
While he's never had a head injury, the offensive tackle knows it's possible, so staying concussion free is critical for his future.
"I plan to play football at University of Louisiana Monroe, and after that, there's no telling.
Their first game of the season is September 4th. Yes, winning and bonding as a team is a priority. But players understand that rallying for their health comes first.
"We don't want to mess with another kid's brain. Let's face it. We're worried about life. Football is just a game."
Ronnie Caveness was a star football player for many years. He was the first two-time All-American at the University of Arkansas, and unlike so many players who only dream it, he made it to the NFL.
His daughter, Sheri Caveness, says there is a danger of the game that many often overlook, and unlike so many players who only dream it, he made it to the NFL.
"It's all those, what neurologists are finding, it's all those mini-hits that neurologists are finding that are adding up to be just as significant as being knocked out," said Sheri.
She says her father was knocked unconscious one time in high school, and he became confused and lost cognitive skills in his late 50s. He developed dementia and Parkinson's Disease, and passed away earlier this year.
"My dad suffered from dementia, Parkinson's, and then a rare form of sleep apnea that's caused by head trauma of congestive heart failure. And we all know he didn't have congestive heart failure," she said.
It's head trauma that she believes was the root of all his problems.
"And right now, his brain is at the University of Boston and Dr. Ann McKee is examining it to see if he has CTE."
CTE is a deterioration of the brain typically found in athletes. Now she and several other families are suing the NFL.
Sheri says in her father's last days, Caveness warned his grandson to not play the game when he grows up.
Caveness' brain is the fifty-third brain from the NFL to be examined.