Creating a safer game of football

JOHN. BALADI, Sports Writer

It was fourth down. The St. Joe Bruin special teams unit ran on to the field for a routine punt. Midway through the third quarter, deep in their own territory against the Pelahatchie Chiefs, the Bruins had no other choice.

Simply put: it’s time to think about the players’, coaches’ and officials’ safety. The MHSAA must work with member schools and do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

— John Baladi

Joe Pearson snapped the ball, punter Michael Hrivnak caught the ball right between the numbers, took a step, kicked the ball and chaos followed.

The Bruins did everything they could to prevent a big return. The Chiefs had other plans, making a big return down to the 15-yard line. On the way, one blocker threw an illegal blind side block on senior Andrew Sanli, who promptly fell to the ground..

“I remember just seeing this one guy graze past me and run toward Andrew. I didn’t know what had happened from there until after the play,” Josh Briscoe said.

Thinking it was just a twisted ankle or a concussion, Briscoe helped Sanli up and tried to walk him off the field. Sanli wouldn’t make it, instead returning to the turf and waiting for help.

After an excruciating 15 minutes laying on the ground and in unbearable pain, an ambulance arrived. Sanli was placed on a gurney, placed in the back and rushed to St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson.

Fifteen minutes. It took 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, an amount of time that for Sanli, his parents and the Bruin football team seemed like an eternity.

This, however, was not an isolated incident at Friday night football games across Mississippi. Just two years earlier, a similar scenario took place on Bill Raphael Field when a St. Joe Greenville linebacker waited 30 minutes for an ambulance to pick him up.

Then, five seasons ago, then-St. Joe quarterback Reed Collins went down during a game at Lake High School. Collins suffered a neck injury, and, again, waited nearly 45 minutes for an ambulance.

It’s time for the Mississippi High School Activities Association and each high school in the state to do something. Football is a violent sport. Players and sometimes referees and coaches get hurt. And 45 minutes, 30  minutes and even 45 minutes could mean the difference between life and death.

There are enough ambulances in the state to cover every single football game and then some, so why don’t they? Why must injured players find themselves in such a dangerous position that could mean life or death?

Sanli ended up with a broken tibias and was sidelined in a cast for the rest of the football season. Collins has a neck injury that many initially feared was something worse that could have affected the rest of his life.

Athletic trainers can only do so much. While they may be able to address a simple leg injury, leg cramps, and even some broken bones, they will need help for other more serious problems like head injuries.

Football is the only game in which players get knocked down every single play and make a conscious choice to get back up. Many players take that mentality in life as well. They shouldn’t have to risk their health or possible death just because an ambulance is 45 minutes away from campus.

Sanli and Collins were lucky their injuries weren’t more serious.

But luck shouldn’t have any part in this. It’s time to stop playing with lives and for the MHSAA and schools to think more proactively. It’s time all schools had at least one ambulance stationed in campus for every football game.