GREENSBORO, N.C. - In any sport, there's a certain amount of risk. But no parent, coach, or teammate wants to see someone get hurt.
This week, 14-year-old football player Thys Oldenburg is still in critical condition. He went down after a hit during a Junior Varsity game last week in Orange County. His family, friends and fellow players are praying for his recovery.
Throughout the state, rules are in place to cut down on serious injuries and concussions, especially when it comes to high contact sports like football. On the high school level, these rule books are tweaked every year. Coaches are expected to do their part to recognize the changes and to enforce them during weekly practice, and at games and meets.
In football, helmets serve as the first line of defense. They’re regulated by things like fit, strength, and shock absorbency to keep players safe. But, it’s not just the equipment, according to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, it's also how you train.
A couple months into the football season, the changing leaves start to mirror the colors of Smith High School - green and gold. While they may be 3 and 6, head coach Brandon Wiggins says this isn't the time to give up.
“We're trying to keep things going, keep momentum going. We had a tough for games stretch, after the Eastern Guilford game,” he said.
He says stepping it up doesn't mean hitting harder. In fact – the team keeps that to a minimum all season long. When they do hit, it's called "live" training, and it's not frequent.
“We are limited in numbers,” Wiggins said, “It's not like we have 100 kids in the program where we can be live all the time. And even if we did, I just don't think it's good football.”
Keeping contact to a minimum is what parents watching from the sidelines like to see.
“The kids are a lot bigger now. They are a lot stronger. But at the same time, there’s a lot more safety stuff in place to prevent injuries,” said parent Eddie Johnson, “A lot of kids in my day that were hurt, they would play through the injury. But now, they are doing a lot more steps as far as making sure that kids are prepared.”
Some more rules that are mandated by the state: a time limit for practice and making sure players are acclimated before the season starts. There are also many restrictions during game time.
For example, illegal blindside blocks, or hitting someone who can't see you're coming.