Kids, Head Hits and Rowan Stringer

By Pam Dillon

Every weeknight at this time of year, the playing fields in my neighbourhood are full of kids.  Right now, there are little ones playing T-ball and soccer. They have knobby knees and wee, toothpick legs. While parents in lawn chairs look on, the players’ younger siblings whip down slides and hang from the monkey bars at the playground.

As I mosey on ahead with the dog, the long stretch of grass way over to the left is a colourful blur of teens furiously chasing balls.  By the bottom of the hill at John McCrae Secondary School, where the dog pauses to sniff at groundhog holes, I can usually hear the shriek of a ref’s whistle and the roar of loud cheering from the huge oval playing field at the top.

Tonight, that field will be empty. And silent. The school community and the entire community of Ottawa are in mourning: Rowan Stringer is dead. It makes a parent weep. The 17-year-old John McCrae student hit the ground hard during a tackle in a high school rugby game last Wednesday. Sunday, she was taken off life support at CHEO.

She was full of life and promise.  Now we, as parents, educators and guardians of children, must promise to learn more about head injuries and what we can do to prevent them or minimize their impact.  According to the Ottawa Citizen, there has been a suggestion Rowan may have incurred a head hit at a game a few days earlier.  As kids routinely do, she kept going. That’s what we need to study more carefully, I think.

For over a decade, I have watched from the sidelines as kids have crashed and collided, knocked heads and slammed at awkward angles into unyielding surfaces. On at least one of my kid’s minor hockey teams, there were more concussions than fingers on my hand  for counting them. For my own kids, trips to the ER have definitely outnumbered the fingers on both hands. But in the bump and bruise-filled world of raising kids, it is always the head hits that are the scariest. Following one impromptu pickup football game I did not attend, there was an emergency trip to the dentist for one of my lads.  His head had slammed into the grass, face first, loosening his front tooth.
It happens, but what should be do about it?

  • After head hits (and body collisions that cause rapid head movement), should there be a mandatory time-out period for kids playing contact sports or activities?
  • How can we get kids to be more forthcoming about symptoms when they want, unreservedly, to get back out and play?

Injuries are part of the rough-and-tumble reality of youth sports and activities.  But as we all know, bones heal; heads are more vulnerable.  We also now know a whole lot more about the consequences of head hits and concussions than we knew even a few years ago.
That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly examine what happened to Rowan and to discuss what we might possibly be able to do to keep kids’ heads safer while they play. They will continue to crash and slam and bang full-tilt.  It’s up to us to teach them and to teach ourselves what those head hits – even the most minor ones – can mean.

Sincere condolences and hugs to Rowan Stringer’s family and to all those who knew and cared for her.





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