The dark side of Friday Night Lights

This article was written by Sandra Porter.

Friday nights are special in the fall. They are filled with football, team spirit, cheer teams, bands and banners. They are intended to be fun competition, excitement, and opportunities to develop sportsmanship.

But this past fall in the La Grange vs. Sweeny game, the game went off the rails. With two minutes remaining, La Grange was driving to tie the game. The comeback seemed a sure thing, until a Sweeny defender intercepted a pass. As the defender was running the ball back, and being ushered out of bounds, my grandson Mason, who was a good 10-15 yards from the action on the play, was pounded by a Sweeny football player -- and critically injured. His spleen was ruptured and he was bleeding internally. With his life hanging in the balance, he was air-lifted to a trauma center in Austin for emergency surgery – one that required 7 units of red blood cells and 2 units of plasma to save his life. Though he survived, for the rest of his days he will be at increased risk for infection as a result of the removal of his spleen. Video of the hit can be viewed above.

That nightmare still haunts me. I can still feel the scare of seeing my grandson in shock trauma ICU and watching my daughter fear for the life of her son. How have we gone from football being a game meant to be a fun extracurricular activity to one that can threaten the lives of our youth? And where is the discipline to ensure sportsmanship?

Notably, the player who hit my grandson was penalized for a personal foul -- but nothing more. There was no further action than a meaningless penalty at the end of a game. My daughter was told by the Superintendent of Sweeny Schools that the Sweeny player was under the team's disciplinary protocol the week following the hit, yet he played the next full district playoff game that week. And, a week after critically-injuring Mason, he gave the opposing team's QB a concussion, with a helmet-to-helmet hit that sent the QB to the hospital.

To be fair, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) website addresses this issue clearly. The protocol for a blatant personal foul should result in the player at fault missing a full half of a game; if it occurs in the second half of the game, the player should miss the first half of their next game. However, the UIL rule was not followed nor enforced. Despite numerous requests by my daughter that the UIL investigate the foul and discipline, the UIL has neither acknowledged her communication nor responded.

Youth participation in football is down across the state. Some suggest the sport is at risk all together, if it does not ensure the safety of its players. To be sure, the game is a contact sport; injuries will happen. But a blatant, punishing and unnecessary hit that threatens a child's life is one that requires our attention.

I write today with two motivations. First, I want to draw attention to safety for the game. Mason's younger brother, a sophomore, loves the game and wants his own Friday night lights experience—but he and others need us to protect the game. Bluntly, it is time that schools and coaches take stronger action to discipline unwarranted injuries, and it is past time for the UIL to take a stronger stance and to look to the examples of the NCAA and the NFL as they work toward a safer game.

And, second, in order to make a positive difference now, my daughter and I have started a GoFundMe page with a goal of providing EvoShield shirts with abdominal and rib protectors for La Grange freshmen, junior and senior varsity football teams. There has been a great deal of healthy attention to protecting against head injuries; these shirts serve to protect the abdomen and ribs. Any donation, no matter how small, is sincerely appreciated.

Interested parties can also donate by tagging the La Grange (Texas) Leopards football team on the Taylor Haugen Foundation website. The foundation was established by Taylor's parents following the death of their 15-year-old son, resulting from a hit to his abdomen during a high school football game.

We hope you will join us to protect our youth and do all we can to make football as safe as possible.

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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