Newcastle football team gets smarter about head injuries

Team is showcased in the documentary “The Smartest Team,” which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday on OETA.
by Scott Wright Published: August 13, 2013
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photo - Players run a drill during the first day of high school football practice for the Newcastle Racers in Newcastle, Okla., Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. The team is the subject of a documentary called "The Smartest Team," which examines Newcastle's efforts to reduce head injuries. It will air at 9 p.m. Wednesday on OETA. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Players run a drill during the first day of high school football practice for the Newcastle Racers in Newcastle, Okla., Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. The team is the subject of a documentary called "The Smartest Team," which examines Newcastle's efforts to reduce head injuries. It will air at 9 p.m. Wednesday on OETA. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

— When Keith Bolles saw the piece of tape on the ground showing him where to stand, he knew he was in a real movie.

Bolles, the Newcastle High School football coach, and his team were followed throughout the 2012 season by a group of medical professionals and other specialists, as well as a film crew, to produce a documentary called “The Smartest Team.”

Produced and directed by Brooke de Lench, the film's goal is to show how education, preparation and treatment can help to prevent concussions in high school football.

De Lench, who is from Boston, brought with her a team of specialists, including a strength trainer and tackling coach, to teach the Newcastle football team the proper steps to avoiding concussions, and treating them when they do occur.

But the film isn't a text-book-type explanation full of medical jargon. It's real life. The film makers spent time with the players away from the football field in the Newcastle community.

“We wanted to really get to know these kids in Newcastle,” de Lench said. “I got to go do things with them and talk to them, and they really opened up.”

Bolles and his son played pool at their home for two hours in front of cameras. De Lench went hunting with a few of the players. And the crew followed others to their jobs.

“I was working at TG Farms at the time, and they wanted to show how most of us had jobs and worked hard,” senior lineman Sheldon Dillman said. “They filmed us hauling straw. A couple of the seniors last year were hunters, and they filmed them on their trucks with all their stuff.”

But the one-hour documentary, which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday night on OETA, is primarily an educational course in head injuries, prevention and treatment. De Lench brought in a team of specialists from literally coast to coast — Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis and other parts in between.

They chose Newcastle because the mother of a former player at the school contacted de Lench for help. Her son was suffering from post-concussion symptoms, and de Lench's website, MomsTeam.com, was gaining attention as a valuable resource for football concussion management.

Ultimately, de Lench brought up the idea that she had been trying to find a team to be the subject of her documentary, and Newcastle took the opportunity.

De Lench and her team arrived in June, shooting much of the non-football activities and beginning the preseason testing that is necessary to properly study the impact of a possible concussion.

The strength trainer worked with the players to show how proper strengthening and stretching can help prevent head injuries, and the tackling coach taught them ways to contact other players that wouldn't put them at risk as often.

The crew stayed through most of preseason practice and returned a few times during the season for games.

The players wore sensors in their helmets that would register the level of impact from a hit and send the information to an iPad on the sidelines. When a hit registered over a certain range, the player had to come out and be tested.

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by Scott Wright
Reporter
A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, Scott Wright has been on The Oklahoman staff since 2005, covering a little bit of everything on the state's sports scene. He has been a beat writer for football and basketball at Oklahoma and...
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