Sonoraville's Andrew Slaton

Sonoraville's Andrew Slaton (left) takes a hand-off during spring practice in May. Slaton is wearing a "guardian" helmet cover which is supposed to help lessen impact on hits to the head. (Alex Farrer,

Concussions and head injuries have come at the forefront of football at all levels in the last few years.

Recently, the Gordon County Board of Education proposed a strict policy to be proactive about how their coaches and staff handle these types of injuries with their athletes.

The new policy had its first reading at the Board meeting on July 15. There will be a second reading at the Aug. 12 meeting, and then it will be voted on and likely passed at the Sept. 9 meeting.

The policy sets several guidelines on how coaches and medical staff will handle concussions and head injuries from this point forward. Here are the guidelines:

1. Prior to the beginning of each season of any extracurricular athletic activity, all parents or legal guardians of participating students shall be provided an information sheet informing them of the nature and risk of concussion and head injury.  

2. If a student participating in an extracurricular athletic activity exhibits symptoms of having a concussion, he or she shall be removed from the activity and be examined by a health care provider.  

3. If a student is deemed by a health care provider to have sustained a concussion, the coach or other designated personnel shall not permit the student to return to play until he or she receives clearance from a health care provider for a full or graduated return to play.  

4. As used in this policy, a “health care provider” means a licensed physician or another licensed individual under a physician’s supervision, such as a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or certified athletic trainer who has received training in concussion evaluation and management.  

5. Coaches, employees, and other designated individuals supervising extracurricular athletic activities are expected to use their training, personal judgment and discretion in implementing this policy.  

6. This policy is not intended to create any liability for, or create a cause of action against, the Board of Education or governing body of a charter school or their officers, employees, volunteers or other designated individuals for any act or omission to act related to the removal or non-removal of a student from an extracurricular athletic activity.  

7. The Board authorizes the Superintendent to direct the development of administrative regulations and/or guidelines needed to implement this policy.

Gordon Central head football coach David Humphreys, who will enter his first season at the helm for the Warriors this fall, said the new policy is a very good thing for the players.

“We take concussions and head injuries extremely seriously around here already,” said Humphreys. “I think what we’ve gotten better at as coaches is understanding the severity of head injures in the last few years.

“We’ll take more time in the process now, and we’re not as quick to put the kids back out there. With a trainer on the field, they’ll take time to further investigate if a kid shows signs of concussions, and that’s very important for us as coaches.”

Roger Gentry is entering his third season as Sonoraville head football coach and he said they take into account exposure to hitting in games as well as practice.

“The past few years, we don’t beat them up at practice as much hitting,” said Gentry. “We try to pull them back because concussions can happen in practice as easily as they can in games.

“Concussions and safety are very important to us. As football coaches, we all love the sport and love to win, but our biggest goal should be to take care of the kids.”

Both coaches said a big part of preventing concussions is for the players to know the correct techniques for tackling and taking hits as well as wearing and using equipment properly. Humphreys said that’s the main focus rather than worrying about hitting too much.

“We teach them how to hit properly, and we demand that from them,” said Humphreys. “We realize it’s not going to happen like that every time on the field, but we’re not going to worry about concussions happening as much as teaching the correct techniques.

“Something we’ve done recently is require that the kids have their mouthpiece attached to their facemask so the coaches can see what condition they’re in and make sure the kids are using them. The mouthpiece is a big part of absorbing hits.”

Gentry said technique is equally important for his team, and they have also made use of new technology recently. The Phoenix have used ‘Guardian’ helmet covers for several of their players. The ‘Guardian’ is padding that goes over the top of the helmet that reduces the impact of hits by as much as one-third.

Gentry said they can only do what they can as coaches to teach the right way, but football is a dangerous sport that probably won’t ever be 100 percent safe.

“We’re never going to be able to protect the players fully,” said Gentry. “We’ve just got to teach them the right way and try to protect them as much as we can.”

One of the biggest lines of defense against concussions and injuries in general for high school teams are good medical personnel on the sidelines. According to Humphreys and Gentry, the two County Schools have just that in medical trainers Amy Hallman (Gordon Central) and Danykia Perine (Sonoraville).

(Danykia) does a great job for us,” said Gentry. “She looks after the kids, and we go by what she says. It’s really big for us to have her there on the sidelines.”

Humphreys said a key is honesty between the trainer and the head coach.

“I tell (Amy) to shoot straight with me,” said Humphreys. “She tells me the truth, and we respect that. It’s a huge relief to have someone like that with us to recognize the way guys are functioning or not and be able to examine them right there.”

The new policy will not go into effect until after the season starts if it is passed at the meeting on Sept. 9, but both coaches said they will already be doing their part to keep their players safe.

Gordon Central scrimmages at home against Cass on Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. and opens the regular season on Aug. 30 at Coosa; Sonoraville visits Armuchee for a scrimmage on Aug. 16 at 7:30 p.m. and visits Pickens on Aug. 30 in their regular season opener.