Kerali Davis thought her son was messing with her.
How could he forget how to do math?
But then the Newcastle mother looked in his eyes.
“And I could see he was being completely honest,” she said. “I just couldn't believe it.”
The culprit: a concussion in a football game.
That experience completely changed Kerali Davis, and now, she's trying to change the culture in her small town south of Oklahoma City — and beyond. An email that she sent sparked the filming of a documentary about the Newcastle High football team and its efforts to reduce concussions and their effects.
“The Smartest Team” will debut Wednesday night on OETA and is expected to air on PBS stations around the country this fall.
It would never have happened if not for a nasty collision three years ago.
Kerali's son Brady was an eighth grader on the middle school football team, and one night, he ran into a player from the opposing team during a kickoff. Neither was looking up. Neither was at fault. But it was ugly.
The player from the other team was knocked out for a moment.
Brady never lost consciousness, but the school's certified athletic trainer determined he was showing signs of a concussion. Because of school policy, he was pulled from the game.
School policy also mandated that he see a physician and get clearance to return, and once he saw the doctor, all signs were positive. He seemed to be on the mend.
A few days later, however, Brady came home from school upset.
“What's wrong?” Kerali asked.
“I couldn't remember how to do math,” he replied.
Kerali was stunned.
“I always thought if you got a concussion ... you rest a couple of days and you're good to go,” she said.
She realized that she needed to know more about concussions, so she started reading everything she could find.
While accompanying Brady to a quarterback camp, Kerali heard a presentation by Brooke de Lench, founder of MomsTEAM. It is an online resource for youth sports health and safety information. Kerali began using the website regularly and occasionally asking de Lench for help.
Then a couple years ago, Kerali and the other parents on the board of Newcastle's youth sports association decided that they wanted to make concussion education a priority. They distributed pamphlets. They brought in experts. But with more and more headlines about concussions playing a role in the suicides of some former pro players, the Newcastle parents decided they needed to do more; they wanted to know what kind of hits their youngest players were taking.
Kerali sent an email to de Lench looking for assistance.
“We're thinking about testing out some concussion sensors,” she wrote, “but we don't know what to get, and if we did get something, we're not sure how to implement our own study to know what we're looking at.”
Not long after, de Lench called Kerali, saying that the technology didn't yet exist to test impacts with youth helmets but that it did for high school helmets.
What's more, de Lench had been thinking about doing a documentary about a place trying to do something about concussions.
What about Newcastle?
Kerali took the idea to high school leaders, and they agreed. Last season, cameras followed coaches, players, trainers and parents as they waged a battle against concussions with impact sensors, heads-up tackling, and a focus on improved neck and shoulder strength.
Now, Kerali Davis hopes the town's story might help teach others who were once like her where concussions are concerned.
“I really went from knowing nothing at all to ... reading all of these things and being blown away by it,” she said. “I didn't realize how serious it could be.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.