Super Bowl: I’m taking the Cardinals by 7

I’ve made a friendly wager with one of our advertising executive here at the Star-News. Poor guy. He’s already lost one bet with me (De La Hoya “fight”) and now he wants to take the Steelers straight up. I’m going with the Cards because they’re riding good momentum, and who doesn’t like an underdog anyway? To add insult to injury, the Ad Guy also bet Roger Federer would beat Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s Australian Open finale. The easiest money I’m going to make this weekend …

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Signing Day is Feb. 4

Above: Last year’s signees from the Tribune area.

I’m gathering a list of local athletes that are signing national letters of intent next week. Go ahead and list who you know because someone always slips through the cracks. It seems every year there are a few we miss simply because we never have any information passed on from the school or the players. Here’s your chance, I want to mention everyone in a story next week.

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Melendez: Knowles situation still unresolved

I have again started writing my weekly columns that run in Friday’s sports section. This week’s column (published today in the Star-News sports section on page 3) focuses on the lack of transparency in the recent dismissal of Muir track coach Michael Knowles.


There’s always two sides to a story, right?

Well, in this case there are possibly three.

Last week we reported the firing of Muir High School track and field coach Michael Knowles.

Knowles had been the school’s track coach in some capacity or another for 28 years, including 10 years as girls head coach and six as the boys head coach.

I went to the Muir High administration for answers and was basically stonewalled until principal Sheryl Orange returned my calls hours later after initially citing a busy schedule and wanting to schedule the interview for the following day.

Even when we heard from Orange, most of the key questions asked were deflected to vice principal Dr. Charles Park. But how was I supposed to get answers when Park would not return repeated calls or respond to messages left on his district-issued cell phone?

Look, I understand school officials — in this case the Pasadena Unified School District — want to cover their bases. But as a reporter I am simply doing my job by asking questions, and I understand Orange and even Park wanted some time to figure out their answers.

But to almost completely ignore our calls just makes the situation read like the school and district have something to hide.

A quick “I’d like to help you but I just can’t comment at this time” would have sufficed.

This much I said to Steve Miller, the director of human resources at PUSD, and to Binti Harvey, the director of communications at PUSD.

They agreed.

When Park was pressed on specific reasons for Knowles’ firing he cited a “personnel issue.”

“I have nothing to hide,” Knowles said. “If I need to sign anything tell me where. I don’t have anything to hide. They can release all my records.”
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Girls Water Polo: This is how you deal with a loss…..

Above: The delicious cake the South Pasadena girls water polo team chowed down after losing to La Canada, 5-2, in Thursday’s Rio Hondo League match.

Got a chance to catch a little girls water polo earlier today. There was a big match featuring the La Canada girls water polo team against South Pasadena. Both are ranked No. 4 and 6 in the CIF-Southern Section Division IV polls, respectively. The Spartans won, 5-2. This means La Canada is still in the driver’s seat for a league title, but the loss doesn’t necessarily mean the Tigers are down and out. This season’s performance is much better to last year’s when they didn’t make the playoffs and finished fourth out of a five-team league. This season, however, South Pasadena is vying for the second-place spot and hoping to peak at the right moment, which is the playoffs. That’s the reason why the South Pas girls were not done and out after the match. They shared the yummy cake above (I didn’t get a taste myself but I was offered a piece by a South Pas player. I kindly declined). While I was writing down the team’s roster I could hear South Pas player Shelby Gogreve singing as she showered. Mind you, the showers were next door and I could still hear her. She was in tune, I’ll give her that. But it’s obvious these girls were not going to let this defeat put them down. Quite an accomplishment and a step in the right direction for these girls.

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A warm welcome for Flintridge Prep’s Ramses Barden

Had a chance to catch the Pasadena Poly-Flintridge Prep boys basketball game last night. The Rebels won, 43-30, and at that game was a special visit: Ramses Barden attended the game. I have to admit. I had no idea who the kid was until I asked Flintirdge Prep AD Alex Rivera for more info. Barden led the Rebels to the 2003 CIF-Southern Section Divisional championship. Gotta hand it to the PA announcer for the Rebels who gave him such a long and warm welcome the game was briefly stopped until the introduction ended. Barden got a loud ovation from the home crowd, and even those on the Poly stands. Barden was humble about it. There’s talk Barden could be picked somewhere in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Best of luck to Barden.

More on Barden’s success this past season….

Cal Poly senior wide receiver Ramses Barden caught a pair of passes in the second half of Saturday’s Under Armour Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

Barden, playing for the North squad, gained 20 yards on the two receptions in the game won by the South 35-18 and televised nationally by NFL Network.

Barden, Cal Poly’s first representative in the Senior Bowl, caught a 19-yard pass from Central Arkansas quarterback Nathan Brown for a first down with 5:10 to go in the third quarter.

With eight minutes to play in the game, Barden caught his second pass, a one-yarder from Texas Tech signal caller Graham Harrell.

“I definitely think I improved or helped myself, whatever you want to call it,” Barden told KSBY-TV after the game. “I got a chance to get out there and perform in front of people who hadn’t seen me do so so far.

“My name’s in a couple more people’s notebooks and there’s a couple more important people asking questions about me, asking who I am, where I came from and if i’ll be a good fit for their team,” Barden added.

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The rumors are flying, Sanders ain’t denying

Freddy Robledo, AKA The Best Damn Investigative Reporter period, had a talk with Tip Sanders earlier this morning….

I get all call this morning from one of Duarte’s biggest boosters, telling me that Lavelle “Tip” Sanders is interested in taking over at Duarte. My first thought is he would work and do wonders, if Duarte is willing to take on a walk-on coach, because Sanders doesn’t have a credential, he’s a security guard who happens to be one of the best coaches in the Valley. There’s no arguing that. When I was working at the Star-News, I watched him take a nothing team at Marshall and turn them into league champs and a CIF semifinal appearance. Everyone watched him take lowly Blair to the Rio Hondo League title and quarterfinal appearance in just his second season at the school in 2007, earning Star-News coach of the year honors. Tip is a no-nonsense coach that demands respect, and if he doesn’t get it, you won’t play for him, period. He didn’t coach anywhere this past season, and speaking honestly like he always does, he said his first preference is Pasadena. He’s been an assistant there off and on for many years, and that’s his dream job. But he also like’s the thought of Duarte.

Here’s a little Q & A from our conversation.

Are you interested in Duarte?

I’m waiting on (P)HS, but I’ve been getting the run around. They have my application I’m just waiting to get interviewed. I did my eight years (assistant) there and that’s a job I’ve always dreamed of having. But it’s getting late in the day now, If I don’t hear something in the next week or so, I’ll start looking around. And yeah, Duarte is something I would look at, but (P)HS is my first choice.

How have you been able to win at places that couldn’t win before you arrived?

Discipline. I know it ain’t for everyone, but that’s the only way I know how to do it. I almost helped coach Muir last season and I was telling (coach) Ken (Howard) that he needs to get rid of all the dead weight and keep the 30 or 40 guys that are willing to work. He saw it different, his philosophy is to keep everyone around, because you’re keeping kids off the street. I get that, I respect that. But I have a different way. In my first year at Blair, we wound up with only 17 kids, but those kids worked their butt off and I never had a problem. The next year everyone was on the same page, we got a few more to come out and won a league title. I’ll take 25 kids that work hard everyday over 40 or 50 with a bunch of distractions. That’s how I’ve done it and will always do it. With discipline you get chemistry, and I don’t care if you have only 20 guys, as long as those 20 are all on the page.

If Pasadena fell through, what would keep you from looking at Duarte?

I would just have to look into it more. I know Jordan Canada (Falcons RB) since he was in pop warner, but I also have a lot of respect for coach (Wardell) Crutchfield. His players liked him, so I have to find out what happened there. If I wanted to go into a situation where I was fighting inner-city schools, I would apply at Muir. But I’d love to talk to their (Duarte) principal and see what they’re thinking. They’ve always had a lot of talent, so we’ll see.

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Football’s $1,000 Helmet

I know, I know, I know .. “Football’s over!!!” That may be so, but these are important stories I ran into from a fellow blogger who tipped me on the first story regarding concussions. After skimming through the Time website I found these other stories I thought parents would find intriguing.

By Julie Rawe
Time Magazine

Coming soon to a worried parent near you: a sales pitch for a $1,000 football helmet that can monitor the precise location and severity of impacts to little Johnny’s head. Leading helmetmaker Riddell plans to begin flooding high schools with take-home brochures this month and to start shipping this concussion-sensing gear to families in November. Says Riddell marketing chief Jim Heidenreich: “If people buy $1,000 drivers and $500 baseball bats, we hope they’ll spend that kind of money on head protection.”

The football field, to borrow a phrase from sports-injury researchers, is an impact-rich environment. Players frequently knock heads, but it’s hard to predict which of the many hits will result in brain-rattling concussions, which are relatively few in number and–contrary to popular belief–often occur without loss of consciousness. Eight colleges, including three Big Ten schools, are using the team version of Riddell’s high-tech helmets, which wirelessly relay real-time data–gleaned from the same sensors found in car air bags–to a sideline computer that can send a pager alert if a player receives a hit or a series of hits that exceed a certain magnitude. The new system for individual consumers works in much the same way except that the helmet uploads impact data onto a PC after a practice or game and a player’s family can log in for a Web-based analysis that may suggest seeking medical attention.

Use of these helmets may seem like a no-brainer. But there’s one big problem besides cost: every concussion is different. One player may emerge unscathed from a massive hit, while his teammate starts seeing stars after getting clocked with half as much force. So it’s unclear what coaches and parents can do with the impact data, at least until more is known about what causes concussions. “We don’t pull people out of a game or a practice simply because they registered some high-value hit,” says Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the University of North Carolina’s Sports Medicine Research Laboratory, who will soon publish five semesters’ worth of helmet data from UNC players showing the wide range of force that led to concussions.

To help pinpoint which impacts affect brain function and how, Brown, Dartmouth and Virginia Tech are starting a five-year study using the sensor-laden helmets that is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study’s principal investigator, Richard Greenwald, co-invented the monitoring technology, and his company, Simbex, is already making inroads into other markets. It just completed an Army order for 20 combat helmets equipped with sensors to monitor bomb blasts and is working on a deal to sell ski helmets that can track the head banging that snowboarders often endure on half-pipes and terrain fields. Greenwald’s two young sons have been wearing prototypes on the slopes as well as data-streaming wrist guards Simbex is developing. Let the impact monitoring, er, games, begin.

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Is football too dangerous?

By Alice Park and Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

The life threatening spinal-cord injury that Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered on Sunday while trying to make a tackle adds urgency to a question that gnaws at the NFL with each passing season — is playing pro football worth the risks?

Everett, 25, remains sedated and on a respirator at Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital in Buffalo following surgery to relieve the pressure on his spine. His orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Andrew Cappucino, had said Everett’s chances of walking again are “bleak or dismal.” However, after Everett voluntarily moved his arms and legs on Tuesday, Cappuccino reportedly told a Buffalo TV station “we may be witnessing a minor miracle.”

It’s only the first week of the season, but already the list of injured players is growing. Both New York quarterbacks — Eli Manning of the Giants and Chad Pennington of the Jets — may miss games because of shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively. Orlando Pace, the all-pro offensive lineman from the St. Louis Rams, tore the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He will miss the season. A steady stream of injuries marred Cincinnati’s thrilling 27-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens Monday night: about a dozen Ravens visited the team doctor Tuesday morning for treatment.

None, however, compare to Everett’s tragic injury. The third-year Bill suffered a fracture and disclocation of his spine, in which the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his spinal cord were telescoped when he went in to tackle the Broncos’ Domenik Hixon on a kickoff return. Everett’s helmeted head made contact with the hard plastic of Hixon’s shoulder pad, and he immediately dropped to the ground, his spinal cord shocked by the impact. “He had a compressive load to his spine, and the spine doesn’t handle those kinds of loads very well,” says Dr. Joseph Kowalski, director of the Spine Center at Erie County Medical Center, and an orthopedic specialist who has spoken with Everett’s doctors. “This caused the vertebrae to separate and fracture.”

Of immediate concern with such a trauma are the ABCs — airway, breathing and circulation. Because the nerves that control breathing are located in the C3-4 area of the spine, doctors on the field and in the emergency room were initially focused on making sure that Everett’s breathing and blood pressure were maintained. Kowalski notes that in the hours following his injury, Everett did have some sensation in his legs, although he could not move them. That could be an encouraging sign, but spine experts have seen enough spinal cord injuries to know that every case is different, and early response is not always a good indicator of later recovery.
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Study: Kids Competing Too Soon After Concussions

By Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

Too many kids are returning to the playing field too soon after a concussion. How many? According to an alarming new study, from 2005 to 2008, 41% of concussed athletes in 100 high schools across the U.S. returned to play too soon, under guidelines set out by the American Academy of Neurology. The 11-year-old guidelines say, for example, that if an athlete’s concussion symptoms, such as dizziness or nausea, last longer than 15 minutes, he should be benched until he’s been symptom-free for a week. The most startling data point–uncovered by the same researchers who in 2007 brought to light the fact that girls have a higher incidence of concussion than boys–is that 16% of high school football players who lost consciousness during a concussion returned to the field the same day.

The consequences of going back early can be dire. Last September, Jaquan Waller, 16, suffered a concussion during football practice at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, N.C. A certified athletic trainer educated in concussion management wasn’t onsite, and the school’s first responder who examined Waller cleared him to play in a game two days later. During that game, Waller was tackled. Moments later, he collapsed on the sidelines. He died the next day. A medical examiner determined Waller died from what is called second-impact syndrome, noting that “neither impact would have been sufficient to cause death in the absence of the other impact.” (See pictures of eccentric college mascots.)

Research indicates that younger, less developed brains are at greater risk of second-impact syndrome, which is why the new concussion study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, is so troubling. Submitted to a scientific journal for peer review, the yet-to-be-published study examined 1,308 concussion incidents reported by athletic trainers and found that in girls’ volleyball and boys’ basketball and baseball, more than half of concussed players returned to play too soon.

“These levels are way too high,” says Dawn Comstock, an Ohio State pediatrics professor and co-author of the new study. She cites several factors that are driving the numbers. Not enough high schools have certified trainers who know how to deal with concussions–just 42% do, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. In some instances, overcompetitive coaches, who are not required to be trained in concussion management, are pushing players back onto the field. And too often the players themselves aren’t reporting head trauma, with team spirit giving them too much of a warrior mentality.
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Dead athletes’ brains show damage from concussions

Above: In healthy brain tissue, virtually no protein tangles, which show up as brown spots, are visible.

Above: The brain of a 45-year-old football player with chronic traumatic encephalopathy shows more brown tangles.

By Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer

(CNN) — For years after his NFL career ended, Ted Johnson could barely muster the energy to leave his house.
The brain of a 45-year-old football player with chronic traumatic encephalopathy shows more brown tangles.

“I’d [leave to] go see my kids for maybe 15 minutes,” said Johnson. “Then I would go back home and close the curtains, turn the lights off and I’d stay in bed. That was my routine for two years.

“Those were bad days.”

These days, the former linebacker is less likely to recount the hundreds of tackles, scores of quarterback sacks or the three Super Bowl rings he earned as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. He is more likely to talk about suffering more than 100 concussions.

“I can definitely point to 2002 when I got back-to-back concussions. That’s where the problems started,” said Johnson, who retired after those two concussions. “The depression, the sleep disorders and the mental fatigue.”

Until recently, the best medical definition for concussion was a jarring blow to the head that temporarily stunned the senses, occasionally leading to unconsciousness. It has been considered an invisible injury, impossible to test — no MRI, no CT scan can detect it.

But today, using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine, is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

On Tuesday afternoon, researchers at the CSTE released a study about the sixth documented case of CTE in former NFL player Tom McHale, who died in 2008 at the age of 45, and the youngest case to date, an 18-year-old multi-sport athlete who suffered multiple concussions.

While CTE in an ex-NFL player’s brain may have been expected, the beginnings of brain damage in an 18-year-old brain was a “shocking” finding, according to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE.

“We think this is how chronic traumatic encephalopathy starts,” said McKee. “This is speculation, but I think we can assume that this would have continued to expand.”
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