SPARTANS KEEPING THEIR HEADS IN THE GAME

MEN’S SOCCER
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2013
JOSH HOWATSON

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SPARTANS KEEPING THEIR HEADS IN THE GAME

LANGLEY, British Columbia – When Trinity Western’s Jason Wiens left the pitch on Oct. 13, 2013 just 38 minutes into a regular season contest against Saskatchewan, it would be the last time he would ever don a Spartans uniform.

The hard-working, farm-tough midfielder from Coaldale, Alta. was concussed. His fifth and final year of eligibility at TWU ended right then and there in Saskatoon.

Less than three weeks later, then third-year defender Cody Strelau suffered a similar fate.

Following the Spartans shootout win over Calgary in the Canada West quarter-final, Strelau walked off the field in a daze. He had finished the game, but his brain had struggled to keep up in the waning moments.

Like Wiens, Strelau was concussed. The Langley, B.C. product hasn’t worn the Blue and Gold since.

He likely never will.

Such is the case in the world of contact sports. But in most other physical games – notably hockey and football – the prevention of concussions has been at the forefront of discussions within a wide variety of circles from professional suits to concerned parents.

In soccer, the discussions and subsequent research has somewhat lagged behind.

So, with Strelau, Wiens and other players, both in the past and the future, in mind, men’s soccer coach Mike Shearon sought a solution. Or, at the very least, a reasonable preventative measure.

The first thing Shearon thought of was, not surprisingly, mouth guards. Hockey and football players have been using them for years. Why not soccer?

So, after some discussion, Langley-based orthodontist Dr. Richard Standerwick helped outfit the Spartans with player-specific mouth guards.

“It’s something that we feel will help us with keep more players in the lineup,” says Shearon, whose team is, related or not, concussion-free this year.

Spartans third-year striker Jarvis Ambaka (Maragoli, Kenya), who is one of a number of players who has quickly adapted to using their mouth guards and he thinks everyone else should too.

“We lost good players because of concussions and if you have the chance to prevent concussions, you might as well use (a mouth guard),” Ambaka says. “It just makes sense for me.”

However, getting the men’s soccer team fitted for mouth guards turned out to be just a scratch on the surface in this story.

As Standerwick says “things got really interesting.” In this case, perhaps even ground-breaking.

As a part-time instructor at UBC, Standerwick came across a resident who was researching microchips and their ability to measure head movement.

As they have collaborated the thinking has become if a microchip could be put inside a mouth guard, the chip could detect when an athlete’s head is more susceptible to a concussion.

“We’re hoping, in the long term, we will be able to rate the head impact on say a soccer ball and the rate of brain movement and therefore concussion levels,” Standerwick says. “If we can do that, we might be able to figure out concussion risk even before an actual concussion occurs.”

The project is in the infant stages, but theoretically down the road, athletes could have their mouth guards scanned at half time or after a game to determine how much head trauma or head movement they suffered.

Rather than the pupil test or a selection of quick questions from a sideline therapist or doctor, concussions and their severity could be detected with one scan of a microchip. And with much greater precision.

“If we can get the microchips working the way that we hope, then we might see these used at soccer at all levels,” Standerwicks says.

“No one has used them in mouth guards yet. Hopefully this will springboard into something that could possibly change the world of soccer. When someone writes a paper down the line, perhaps Coach Shearon will be mentioned as the guy who thought of it all.”

And if that were the case, both Strelau and Wiens could take solace in the fact that maybe their dark days sparked a whole lot of bright days in the future.

-TW-

Last Updated: 2013-10-13
Author: Mark Janzen

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