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This is what football can do to a child's brain after just one season

The results of a new study may have some parents rethinking whether they allow their children to play football.

>> Watch the news report here

Three million children in the U.S. play in tackle football programs. While many doctors and scientists have taken a look at the impact of concussions, new research by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center studied the impact of less-serious blows to the head that are common during games.

The study included 25 players between the ages of 8 and 13 and was centered on a youth program in Winston-Salem, N.C. Each boy was outfitted with a helmet that measured the severity and frequency of head blows.

“This is important, particularly for children, because their brains are undergoing such rapid change, particularly in the age category from maybe 9 to 18. And we just don’t know a lot of about it,” Dr. Chris Whitlow, a lead researcher, told NBC News.

Researchers say their findings indicated that even at this young age, the boys were receiving pretty hard hits.

The doctors then performed MRIs on the players and determined there were some changes in the brain’s white matter, the tissue that connects the gray matter of the brain.

“We have detected some changes in the white matter,” Whitlow said. “And the importance of those changes is that the more exposure you have to head impacts, the more change you have.”

Young players who did not have concussions were also found to have been impacted by repeated hits. Brain changes were found even after a single season of playing the sport.

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So far, doctors are not cautioning parents against letting their children play football since there are still some unclear areas following the study. Doctors don’t know if these changes will continue as the boys play football. They also don’t know what long-term impact the repeated blows to the head will have on the players.

Still, some parents say the sport is worth the risk — for now — because of the joy it brings to their children. Football also encourages their kids to stay on top of their grades.

Kindra Ritzie-Worthy has two sons who play football. She says they take their footballs everywhere they go. One even sleeps with his ball.

“Worth the risk?” she told NBC. “I say absolutely.”

The study is published in the journal Radiology.

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh names homecoming queen during recruiting trip

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh kept busy during the Wolverines’ bye week — he announced the homecoming queen at a California high school game.

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ESPN reported that Harbaugh was on a recruiting trip at Antioch High School to see highly recruited running back Najee Harris, who is committed to Alabama. 

Harbaugh attended Antioch’s homecoming game against Liberty High School, and school officials asked him to announce the homecoming queen at halftime, ESPN reported.

Harbaugh called the name of Tatiana Mendez as the crowd roared.

Harbaugh said he'd never been asked to handle the microphone during a recruiting visit.

"That was an all-time first for me," Harbaugh told ESPN. "That was really cool." 

Special needs student in Utah scores touchdown

A special needs student in Utah got to live an athletic dream on Thursday night, scoring a touchdown on the second-half kickoff for his high school football team.

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Brian Herrera attends Cottonwood High School in Murray, located in suburban Salt Lake City. He is a special needs student and has known senior Alex Hart since the pair attended junior high school.

"I'd say, 'What's up dude?' and I'd fist bump him," Hart told KSTU.

Hart and Herrera reconnected in high school and the two friends would have lunch together. They found a special connection through football. Hart is an offensive lineman for the Cottonwood Colts varsity football team.

"Every time I come off the field, I'd come off and he'd give me a hug," Hart told KSTU.

Hart went to Kailee Sandberg, Herrera’s special needs teacher, and asked if Brian could join a football class and roam the sidelines during games.

"He seems to be doing better socially, his speech is coming along better, he just is all around a happier kid, which I didn't think he could get any happier but he did," Sandberg told KSTU.

Best TD of the night! Thanks @C_WoodFootball and @TaylorsvilleHS for making this possible for Brian! #TribPreps @trevorphibbs @adonsports pic.twitter.com/KOMZECYn9u— Robyn Ivins (@partymomof5) October 14, 2016 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Thursday night, Cottonwood (1-9) played neighboring Taylorsville (3-6). The Warriors agreed to cooperate with the Colts, and leading 35-7 at the intermission, kicked the ball to Herrera to open the second half. Hart, who had been injured, came into the game for the one play and helped create a convoy for Herrera to score.

"He's just been my biggest fan, and I've been his biggest fan," Hart told KSTU.

It didn't matter that Cottonwood lost 49-14. The real winners were Hart, Herrera, and both squads.

Does it get any better than this?!? Things like this make us proud to be Colts! #ColtsAreGreat pic.twitter.com/yiErnya2fa— Cottonwood High (@CottonwoodHS) October 14, 2016 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Powerful Washington high school football team strikes fear in opponents

In the world of Friday night lights and high school football, is it possible for one team to be too good?

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In Everett, Washington, one powerhouse team outscored its opponents 170-0 in its first three football games this season. Now other conference opponents would rather forfeit than get pummeled by Archbishop Murphy High School’s team. 

"There's still unknowns. … We don't know what's going to happen next week," said Jerry Jensen, the school's athletic director.  

But parents of some players at Cedar Park Christian High won't allow them to face the much bigger, stronger Archbishop Murphy, which is the next game on the schedule. Some wrote emails saying such things as, "We are in agreement that to play Archbishop Murphy would compromise the best interest and safety of the players and be demoralizing by the certain and devastating defeat." 

Another wrote, "Football is a dangerous sport; however, this is an extreme and unnecessary risk that you are putting our sons in." 

Some were even upset that the school didn't forfeit immediately, saying, "Please know that we will not be allowing our sons to suit up for the Archbishop game next Friday the 14th." 

Joey Johnson, the athletic director at nearby Granite Falls High School, also skipped out on a game against Archbishop Murphy.  

"We made a decision based on the health and welfare of our kids," Johnson said.   

Stacey Morris, a parent of one of the players, agreed with the decision.

"We can't put our 5-foot-8, 125-pound quarterback up against their nose tackle who happens to be 6 feet 5 inches and weighs over 330 pounds. He's going to put that kid in the hospital," she said. 

Archbishop Murphy is loaded with big Division 1 college recruits like 6-foot-8, 265-pound junior Abe Lucas. 

"I'm just ready to get back on the field and start playing again with all my boys," Lucas said. 

Fellow Archbishop Murphy player Jackson Yost agreed. 

"We can't focus on what other schools do, and we just have to focus on what we need to do to prepare for the next upcoming game," he said.

High school football team sings national anthem when music doesn't start

High school football players in Michigan took matters into their own hands Wednesday when the national anthem didn't play before their game.

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The Lapeer Lightning freshman team lined up to belt out the national anthem, much to the delight of parents in the stands. One of those proud parents, Chell Byrnes, took to social media to share her pride.

<script>(function(d, s, id) {  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.7";  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>Amazing class demonstrated by Lapeer Lightning Freshmen football team!!! After we were told per the Carman Ainsworth...Posted by Chell Byrnes on Wednesday, August 31, 2016

She wrote:

Amazing class demonstrated by Lapeer Lightning Freshmen football team!!! After we were told per the Carman Ainsworth announcer they won't be playing the pregame national anthem our team stood proud, saluted the flag and sung it themselves, our crowd stood with them for every note! Very proud to be a Lightning Mom tonight!!

Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Eddie L. Kindle told MLive.com that the anthem was played before the junior varsity game later that night.

"Like most schools in the state of Michigan, we choose to play the national anthem prior to the highest level of competition," he said. "That is common and typical in many communities in Michigan. We have never and will never refuse to play the national anthem."

>> Related: Police patrolling 49ers stadium threaten not to show up if Colin Kaepernick doesn’t stand for anthem

The freshmen didn't take any of this into account. Their coach, Byran Sahr, said the players thought there was an issue with the sound system and took care of the rest from there.

"We had all lined up on the sideline like we usually do for the national anthem," he told MLive.com. "It's an incredible feeling. I've been with most of these players for three years now. They're just an awesome group of kids," Sahr said. "It makes me incredibly emotional and I don't usually get emotional."

>> Related: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sits for national anthem

The team's athletic director also gushed about the move.

"We're just super proud of our guys to overcome that situation and take it upon themselves to sing the national anthem. We couldn't be prouder," Lapeer High School athletic director Shad Spilski said.

Texas high school football player dies after collapsing at game

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A Texas high school football player died Saturday after he collapsed during a game Friday night.

According to the Jacksonville Progress, Cam'Ron Matthews, a 16-year-old junior at Alto High School, was on the sidelines during a game against Price-Carlisle when he had a seizure and collapsed. Coaches and officials tended to him until a helicopter arrived to take him to East Texas Medical Center, where he died Saturday evening.

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“He was a great football player," Alto High School Athletic Director Paul Gould told KTRE. "He played offense and defense for us. He would do everything you ask him to do and did it well … just overall a great kid."

GoFundMe page set up for the teen's family had raised $5,685 by early Monday.

"He was an all-around great kid, athlete, strong in his faith & a friend to many," the page reads

Read more here and here.

>> Click here to watch a video report

<script type='text/javascript' src='http://ktre.images.worldnow.com/interface/js/WNVideo.js?rnd=270497;hostDomain=www.KTRE.com;playerWidth=610;playerHeight=373;isShowIcon=true;clipId=11932369;flvUri=;partnerclipid=;adTag=News;advertisingZone=;enableAds=true;landingPage=;islandingPageoverride=false;playerType=STANDARD_EMBEDDEDscript;controlsType=fixed'></script>KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Report: High school football coach admits he ordered players to hit referee

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An assistant football coach at a San Antonio, Texas, high school allegedly admitted that he told players to hit a refereeESPN reports.

According to ESPN, Mack Breed, a secondary coach at John Jay High School, told Principal Robert Harris that he ordered the hit because the referee, Robert Watts, missed calls and used racial slurs. Watts denied those allegations.

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The news came after two players appeared to blindside Watts in a video from a Sept. 4 game in Marble Falls. The clip, which was posted to YouTube the next day, has been viewed nearly 11 million times.

>> Click here to watch the video

The two players, who are 15 and 17, have been transferred to an alternative school. They could be allowed to return to John Jay High in January.

Read more here.

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

WATCH: Autistic high school football player scores team's final touchdown of season

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It was a touching moment on a high school football field near Pittsburgh when a player with autism helped end the season on a high note.

Valley High School junior Zach Clarke scored his first-ever touchdown, thanks in part to players from both sides of the field.

“I just ran up the middle and I was gone,” Clarke said. “I scored.”

The athletic departments from both Valley and Freeport schools worked the heartwarming end to the season out before Friday’s game.

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“I said, ‘I’ll give you the ball and you run to the end zone,’ and he said, ‘All right,’” quarterback Phillip Petit said.

Players from both teams celebrated with Clarke and carried him off the field on their shoulders. The crowd went wild cheering for Clarke, as well.

“The coaches were crying. The fans were crying. Everybody was crying,” Valley coach Muzzy Colosimo said.

The touchdown meant a lot to Clarke’s parents, who were at the game.

“I said to my husband, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s in,’” Clarke’s mother, Kathy Clarke, said. “And then, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s running for a touchdown.’”

The game’s final score: Freeport 39, Valley 30. The game was played at James E. Swartz Memorial Field in Freeport, Pennsylvania. Freeport is about 40 miles outside Pittsburgh in Armstrong County. 

“It’s definitely one of the moments that will live in my mind forever,” said Freeport quarterback Andrew Romanchack. “It was a moment that changes a person.”

3 deaths in 1 week: How risky is high school football?

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A 16-year-old high school football player died Wednesday following an on-field collision.

Tom Cutinella was a junior at Shoreham-Wading River High School. He was pronounced dead after collapsing during the third quarter of a varsity football game.  But school officials say football is not to blame.

STEVEN COHEN, Shoreham-Wading Superintendent WNBC: "It was the result of a typical football play.  It was just a freak accident."

Cutinella's death is the third death of a high school football player due to football-related injuries in a week.  Demario Harris Jr. of Troy, Alabama, died Friday after being tackled. That same day, Isaiah Langston of Rolesville High School collapsed and died during pre-game warm-ups.

That certainly makes for an eye-catching headline. But let's look at the overall numbers behind school football deaths.

In a 2013 study, The American Journal of Sports Medicine found football-related fatalities in high school and college average 12.2 per year.  That is about one in every 100,000 participants. Fatalities are most commonly from indirect causes, such as heat illness and cardiac failure. College football players are also 2.8 times more likely to suffer fatal injury than high schoolers.

And the popularity of college football may be an issue here. The New York Times paraphrases Kate Carr, president and chief executive of Safe Kids Worldwide, as saying that "some of the intense culture of professional and collegiate football is trickling down to the high school level."

Some school districts have instituted stricter practice and equipment guidelines in response to evidence that deaths have increased since 1994.

According to a study in the International Journal of Biometeorology, deaths from heat-related injuries nearly tripled from 1994 to 2009. Researchers said some of the increase may be explained by higher temperatures during practice times and an increase in average BMI among football players, though those are only a couple of possible factors.

Students and teammates held a candlelight vigil for Cutinella on the school's football field Thursday.  Cutinella's grandfather told The New York Times that even though there are risks associated with football, he would never ask his grandsons to quit playing.

 

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