Ex-High School Football Coach Focuses on Youth Sports Injuries

By JOHN ZENOR | June 19, 2014

The opposing running back from Jack Crowe’s first game as a fulltime high school coach died after a hit later in the 1972 season. Auburn’s starting fullback in 1983, Greg Pratt, collapsed and died after a preseason workout.

Those two deaths, 11 years apart, left their mark on Crowe.

Now, the former pre-med student who became head coach at Arkansas and Jacksonville State is trying to make his own mark in helping to reduce sports-related injuries among children.

“Both of them left you with a big ‘Why?’ in your head,” said Crowe, Auburn’s offensive coordinator when Pratt died. “I mean, a real big why. And you don’t dwell on it, but you never forget it.”

Crowe is working with Safe Kids Worldwide, prominent sports surgeon James Andrews’ Research and Education Institute and other groups on tackling youth injuries after a 35-year coaching career. Crowe, who has started the Website www.coachsafely.com, attended President Barack Obama’s recent summit on concussions and met with Alabama lawmakers.

Crowe and Andrews have helped Jacksonville State start an online course that launches in the fall to educate coaches on preventing and dealing with sports injuries.

Jacksonville State plans to offer the first course for high school and junior high coaches then open it up to coaches at the parks and recreations level with a wider launch in the spring. It’s focused on concussions, heat-related illnesses, injuries caused by overtraining and sudden cardiac death.

“We want every kid – whether they’re in high school sports or parks and recreation sports – to be safe, and for those coaches to be knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of those injuries,” said John Hammett, dean of Jacksonville State’s College of Education and Professional Studies.

Hammett believes this is the first such youth injury prevention course at a university in the United States, though others like UCLA are conducting research. The U.S. Center For Disease Control reports that athletes in high school and younger suffer an estimated 5.5 million injuries annually, and says that more than half of those are preventable.

Like Crowe, Hammett was touched by the death of Jacksonville High’s star running back Anthony “Speedy” Cannon, after the Wellborn game in October 1972. Crowe was a recent college graduate working nearby as Oxford High School’s offensive coordinator and still considering attending medical school.

Hammett, then a Jacksonville offensive lineman, rushed to help Cannon off the ground. Cannon died early the next morning from a traumatic brain injury after having, in the vernacular of the day, “had his bell rung” several times previously, Hammett said.

“Science and research will tell you that it’s not the first lick that does it,” he said. “It’s repeated licks over a small period of time that lead to that traumatic brain injury. If we had known more about concussions back in those days and we had educated the coaches and the players and the parents, then Speedy might be with us today.”

Hammett said Alabama has some 13,000 coaches eligible for the Jacksonville State program, and he’s hoping 300-500 will participate in the fall’s pilot program. JSU is seeking additional state appropriations and some federal money to help keep the program free.

Crowe is on the advisory council for the National Council on Youth Sports Safety and chairs the committee for coaches, training and officiating.

He ran Andrews’ American Sports Medicine Institute before Jacksonville State hired him. JSU fired him last November after 13 seasons, and Crowe went back to his health-related roots.

Andrews, who wrote “Any Given Monday” about youth sports injuries in 2013, said the rate has been on the rise. He believes the JSU curriculum will help cut the number of youth injuries.

“It will bring coaches and parents up to speed on some simple practices that can increase sports safety and reduce risk of youth injuries,” Andrews said in a statement.

Crowe, meanwhile, still gets emotional when talking about the death of Pratt, who he called “one of the most loved players on our team.” A coroner determined it was heat stroke.

Crowe is hoping a state that produced four of the last five BCS national champions – can also take a prominent role in injury prevention.

“We need to have a vision of excellence that is just as good at prevention as it is at competitive excellence,” Crowe said. “What we’ve got to do is say that Alabama has extended its mission to be the best in injury prevention in America. That’s my mission right there.”

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