Clearwater High School's football team practices during spring football.
Clearwater, Florida -- Spring football is underway at Clearwater High School and as always, concussions are a concern. Trainers and coaches know the dangers.
"You want your kids to be safe and you really have to be aware and follow the protocol," says football coach Mike Lube.
While these young players practice close to home, the suicide of former NFL star Junior Seau once again focuses national attention on the issue of sports-related brain injury. In Seau's case, did repeated concussions lead to depression?
Sports medicine expert Dr. Ted Farrar says there's no proof yet, but that studies and surveys suggest concussions can lead to long-term problems.
"At least with retired NFL players there appears to be a higher incidence of depression and memory loss," says Farrar, who works in Morton Plant Mease's sports medicine program.
Those are serious problems and that's why Farrar says more research needs to be done. And some of that research is going on with the help of young Pinellas athletes.
Under the direction of doctors at Morton Plant Mease, football and soccer players, and cheerleaders from two Pinellas high schools are taking a computer-based test developed at the University of Pittsburgh. The questions help measure how well a subject's brain is working.
"It will test their memory recall, both with words, as well as with images," says Farrar.
And then if a player suffers a concussion, the same test can help determine if they're ready to hit field again. And Farrar says often the results are surprising.
Ferrar says, "Even though they say they feel great, they're really not functioning as well as they think they are."
And unlike a strained muscle, Ferrar says the brain of a young person actually takes longer to heal than the brain of an adult.