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Video of La Jolla High School’s junior varsity football game against Point Loma High in October shows a 17-year-old knocking helmets with linemen, play after play.
The La Jolla player, who we’re calling Blake for privacy reasons, plays nearly every down of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
Late in the second quarter, Blake fires off the line of scrimmage, crashing his head into the helmet of a defender. The helmet-to-helmet crack reverberates. You can hear it on the video. Behind him, the quarterback lofts a pass, connecting with his receiver for a 60-yard touchdown.
In all the excitement, it may have been easy to overlook Blake’s injury, even if he told a coach he was hurt – as the boy’s father and La Jolla coach Jason Carter say happened immediately after that play.
San Diego Unified says the video, which VOSD obtained through a Public Records Act request, is now part of the investigation into whether coaches and staff acted swiftly enough the day Blake suffered a concussion.
The game film won’t prove nor put to rest all of the allegations about that day, including whether the player was vomiting on the sidelines before he took himself out of the game. The video, shot and edited by a local production company, doesn’t show what happened between plays or on the sidelines. Time between plays has been cut out.
Nor does the video show whether Blake’s injuries were the result of one collision, or many compounded. As the game progressed into the third quarter, Blake began missing blocks and tackles. His steps were slower. He wobbled a bit after plays. But to coaches at the time, he could have simply looked tired.
But this much is certain: By the time he took himself out of the game, Blake’s head injury was very serious. He has missed more than three months of school. A neurologist has treated him for chronic migraines. His playing days are likely over. He is struggling with basic life skills and his parents are mostly focused on just making sure he can graduate.
San Diego Unified hasn’t offered any findings from its investigation. Last month district spokesperson Ursula Kroemer said this: “When it became apparent there was something not right, the staff took the right steps.”
Of course, if it’s true that Blake asked a coach to come out of the game – but was denied – Kroemer’s statement doesn’t hold up. If a player complains, or shows any sign of head injury, protocol calls for coaches to remove that player from the game until he’s assessed by a licensed medical practitioner.
One telling piece of the La Jolla game film contrasts starkly with a statement Carter made when I first contacted him in December. At the time, he denied any incident like Blake’s injury ever happened at LJHS.
Referring to a parent who described the incident to VOSD, Carter said, “He must have been talking about a different program. He wasn’t talking about my kids, because nothing like that ever happened. My coaches know what to do if they suspect a concussion. If I ever heard that a coach put a kid back in the game, I’d fire him on the spot.”
A day later, when I contacted him with more details, he acknowledged Blake’s injury did happen. He’d been confused by my question a day earlier, he told me, and didn’t know which team I’d been referring to. (Carter is the head varsity coach, and the injury happened on the junior varsity team). He was present at the junior varsity game on the day of the injury, he said, but wasn’t on the sideline coaching and wasn’t immediately aware anyone had been injured.
But footage of the football game puts him closer to the injury, and the player, than he let on. In fact, he was present when the player was assessed.
On top of the film, a trove of emails, obtained through a Public Records Act request, shows school officials were aware of the incident since the day it happened. When I first inquired, school officials bounced me around to different people, and ultimately Principal Chuck Podhorskywouldn’t confirm whether the incident took place. The district said my inquiry was the first it had heard of the details of the incident.
Here’s an Oct. 16 email from La Jolla Vice Principal Anne McCarty to other principals and school nurse Kerri Goldstein:
Here’s another email from Foundation of La Jolla High School President Beth Penny to school officials. (Penny is not employed by LJHS or the district.) Penny was at the game, but told me Dec. 19 she was unaware of the details of the incident.
It’s reasonable for La Jolla High officials to use discretion when speaking with media. Officials at an individual school aren’t obligated to speak to the press.
The problem is that individual schools aren’t required to notify the public information office when an injury happens, Kroemer said.
That means that health and safety information that could potentially benefit parents and administrators may never publicly surface.