Fishers teen advocates for sports-related brain injury awareness
During every game, football players – amateur and professional alike – take the field and unleash devastating tackles on their opponents. On other fields, soccer players head butt the ball, batters watch for wild pitches and elbows fly high when rebounding the basketball.
Athletic contests sometimes result in concussions for players, leading to in short-term problems like missing part of a game or future games.
Fishers resident and Our Lady of Grace Catholic School student Casey Lutz, 13, wants athletes and other young people to understand that concussions and related brain injuries can mean long-term health repercussions, too.
Lutz will introduce Chris Nowinski, co-founder and president of the Sports Legacy Institute and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine, at the Brain Injury Association of Indiana’s fall conference Friday. In addition to speaking at the conference, Lutz’s awareness program, Project Licci, is participating in the association’s Family Education and Resource Fair Saturday.
“If I can help one kid (realize) what it takes to be saved from brain injury, then it’ll be totally worth it,” Lutz said.
Class in session
Lutz started the Project Licci initiative to get the word out about how concussions impact overall health.
He started his quest as part of a global issues project at Our Lady of Grace. Each student is tasked with learning about an issue and attempting to make a difference. The program is named after John Licci, the patron saint of head injuries.
In search of an idea, Lutz’s focus shifted to a family friend facing tough times. Phil Conley, a competitor on the 1956USOlympic team and friend of Lutz’s grandfather, played multiple sports during his time at California Institute of Technology, including football.
“Not many players on his team were as athletic as him,” Lutz said, “so he took many hits.”
Lori Lutz, Casey’s mother, said Conley started showing signs of dementia in his 60s, with no family history of the ailment whatsoever.
“He just started having a lot of signs of dementia,” she said, “and they’re tying it back to those hits he took as a quarterback. It’s just kind of sad to see someone so affected like that.”
Spreading the word
Working towards presenting the project for school, Lutz met with several organizations and distributed multiple “brain care packages” packed with information on brain injuries, some containing special goggles that simulate the effects of concussions.
His goal is to contact 60 schools in 60 days. He said he’s worked with 15 schools so far, including Catholic schools in the area and their sports collectives.
In addition to working with local schools, Project Licci worked with the Dave Duerson Muncie Community Schools Athletic Safety Fund. The fund is named for two-time Super Bowl champ Dave Duerson, who committed suicide last year. Its goal is to help youth athletes who need post-concussion testing.
Lutz said he spends a lot of time on the weekends working on the project, which includes doing chores to pay for the brain care packages. If the care package includes the concussion goggles, the cost of the package can be as much as $200. Project Licci is self-funded by Lutz, with the help of a few private donations.
Lutz said it’s most important to understand how a concussion can feel fine in the short-term but resurface in later years.
Lutz said his mother helps him out a lot with the project.
“He’s done most of it,” Lori said.
She said it’s been tough for him to get speaking engagements with schools, but he has seen some success. At the The Brain Injury Association of Indiana conference in four days, however Lutz will be introducing an expert in the field.
“I think it’s because he’s a 13-year-old kid,” Lori said, “and it’s going to take the 13-year-old kids to make a difference.”