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Former Football Star Talks Concussions in Westport

WESTPORT, Conn. – Chris Coyne didn’t realize his sixth concussion would end his football career at Yale University before he had even played in a game. But six weeks later, when he was still suffering with concentration issues and memory lapses, the former Staples High star realized his career was over.

“It seemed like a minor concussion,’’ said Coyne, who will speak Thursday at Football Concussion Safety Night at Saugatuck Elementary School. The seminar from 7 to 9 p.m. is geared toward youth football coaches to learn practice drills to reduce concussion risks and to teach proper responses to possible concussions.

Coyne suffered four concussions while playing youth and high school football, including one that involved locker room hijinks. Another occurred when he hit his head on a high jump standard during a high school track practice.

His sixth concussion occurred during a football practice in his first few weeks at Yale. “It was a drill I’ve done a hundred times before,’’ Coyne said. “This time, I don’t know if it was because of the speed of the players, or because of their size, but it really affected me.”

He considered not telling the Yale medical staff. His mother advised him to alert the trainers, and a few days later his symptoms became more pronounced. “I’d get up to get a Gatorade, and I didn’t know why I was getting up,’’ Coyne said. “I knew there was something wrong.”

Coyne took a test that measure cognitive function, specifically long- and short-term memory, as well as recation time. He scored in the 80th percentile before his final concussion. He slipped to single digits afterward and showed little improvement after three months. “It was clear to me,’’ he said, “that I shouldn’t be playing.”

Yale’s medical staff had already offered the same opinion. “To have that happen before I got to play a single game was devastating," he said. "In November, I knew I was done.”

Coyne will be one of the speakers at Thursday’s seminar along with Westport PAL director Carm Roda and Norwalk’s Katherine Snedaker of SportsCAPP , or Sports Concussion Awareness and Prevention. The Westport youth football program, led by Roda, has been in the vanguard nationwide for providing equipment and instruction that reduces concussions related to football.

“There’s a lot of pressure to keep playing,’’ Coyne said. “You don’t want to lose your starting spot. I played with injuries my whole career. The thing is, a concussion is not like any other injury. For me, it was a cumulative thing. They just took their toll.”

His message Thursday to coaches will be to encourage players to report head injuries. “Take care of it right away, don’t rush back," Coyne said. "The first step is reporting it, dealing with it right away. It’s too dangerous to wait.”

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