Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sports

After concussion, CDS student makes difficult choice to stop playing football

CARROLLWOOD — During a high school football game last year, Kalle Wilwant remembers "hitting a kid at a weird angle" and that "it didn't feel right."

He remembers a collision with another player later that game, and each hit feeling worse than the last. He remembers his coach looking him in the eye and telling him he had to come out of the game.

Then, after the game, things seemed to get worse.

"The pain was really bad. I couldn't find my clothes," Wilwant, 16, said. "My girlfriend carried me to the car and drove me home."

That game, and the ensuing months of recovery, led the Carrollwood Day School junior and his family to one of the most difficult decisions of his young life.

To stop playing football.

Such decisions are rare in a day and age when the more common dilemma surrounding young athletes who suffer concussions is when he or she can safely return to action.

Wilwant's father, Eric, is certain his son suffered his second and third concussions during that game against Cambridge Christian in 2012.

"It was weird because part of me fully expected something like that to happen, watching him play. I mean, football is a violent sport," he said. "But I had no idea it could be that bad."

Wilwant's father recounted how long his son's recovery took. His son would miss the rest of the season, including the Patriots' run to the regional finals.

The recovery involved taking a test called ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing.

Eventually, Wilwant was cleared to play again next spring.

Wilwant recalled the third day of spring practice, when the team engaged in full hitting drills. He remembered how teammate Elias Earley pulled up to soften a collision with him.

The pain returned.

"I felt it right away, and I threw my helmet off and went to the locker room," Wilwant said. "After that practice, I decided I was done. I knew it was over."

That was the first of two decisions the young man would make. The next would be whether he would stick around and support the team, or try to get as far away from the sport as possible.

The first couple of games, "I just couldn't do it," Wilwant said of being out there with the team.

"We know his mind is with the team," head coach Lane McLaughlin said. "Everybody respects him."

Wilwant is still listed on the 2013 varsity roster as No. 1, a switch from his original number of 52.

"I didn't have the heart to take him off of (the roster)," McLaughlin said.

Wilwant has attended Patriot games this season, helping out on the sidelines.

"I know other kids talk to him about what he sees on the sideline and it helps them," senior linebacker Dominic Cuono said. "It helps, too, having another voice out there."

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