Concussions scary reality for high school athletes

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LONG ISLAND (PIX11) -- Every practice. Every play. Every hit.

Every athlete knows there's risk involved in sports, but former lacrosse player Sean Kreh says it's not something to focus on.

"It's like saying you're driving in a car, you don't really think of the risk of getting into a car accident," said Kreh. "You just do it because that's nature."

So rarely does an athlete think he or she is risking their life while playing a game. Which is why the death of 16-year-old Tom Cutinella shook an entire community last month.

Cutinella, a junior at Shoreham-Wading River High School on Long Island died after a collision during a football game. Although the official cause of death hasn't been released, the teen suffered an apparent head injury from the hit, rising to his feet after the impact before later collapsing on the field.

"Tommy loved the fact that he was playing football," said Assistant Coach Hans Wiederkehr. "And he loved the fact that he was playing football with kids he grew up on and he loved the fact that he was playing football on a quality team."

That love for the game is something Kreh says he knows all too well. The former high school standout in lacrosse planned to play in college, but had to abandon his dreams after suffering a serious concussion.

"They said it wasn't a good idea if I would play lacrosse or any sport again because they don't know what injuries it may cause or make worse."

Still, each time he goes back for a check-up Kreh says he tries to convince the doctor he's healthy enough to get back on the field, but so far no luck.

The idea of shaking off an injury and getting back in the game isn't just an attitude shared by male athletes. Females are just as determined to play through injuries.

Carol Towey has 3 daughters, all of whom play sports, two of which have had concussions.

"The symptoms are things like they're sleepy, they have headaches, irritable, they're moody and all teenagers are just sort of normally that so it's really hard to distinguish when one is extra," said Towey.

Towey says she thinks schools have come a long way in dealing with concussion since her days as a student athlete.

"I don't really think they talked about concussions so much. Unless you were out cold on the field. Unless there was that obvious head injury event."

Schools now require baseline testing for brain function of athletes, colleges are using sensors to monitor the force of impact, and the NFL encourages kids to learn proper tackling techniques through the "Heads Up" program.

So, with 2 head injuries for her middle child and 4 for her youngest daughter, which will prevent her from playing soccer again, we asked Towey if she ever second guesses the decision to let her kids play sports.

"No. I think that you get so many benefits from it, particularly as a young woman in every aspect of your life," Towey said. So, I would never take that away from them because of a chance that they might get a concussion."

And Kreh agrees. He says even hearing the warnings from his doctors, it's tough not to get back on the field.

"You know it's what you love and you're going to do what you love even with the risk."