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Dartmouth coach, mom testify before Congress about concussions - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Dartmouth coach, mom testify before Congress about concussions

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WASHINGTON -

Emotional testimony in Congress Friday from the mother of a former Dartmouth College football player who blames his suicide on head trauma suffered while playing the game. She hopes to turn grief over the loss of her son into action to protect young football players. She's raising awareness about CTE, a brain disease linked to concussions. 

Patrick Risha achieved his dream of playing Ivy League football at Dartmouth College. But years later, it was discovered he suffered from CTE. Now, his mom wants other families to know the risks and for officials to take action.

"For the sake of American families, this has to change," said Karen Kinzle Zegel, Patrick's mother. 

Her heartbreak was as clear as her message. Kinzle Zegel is pushing lawmakers in Washington to change how kids play football. She wants to protect them from concussions. Her son, Patrick Risha, started playing the game at 10 and worked and worked to earn a spot on Dartmouth's team as a running back.

"It is that work ethic and perseverance in a collision sport that ultimately killed him. Patrick took his own life at the age of 32, but, actually, we have come to know CTE took his life," said Kinzle Zegel.

CTE is a brain disease that has been found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma. Symptoms can include memory loss, impaired judgment and impulse control problems. Patrick's mom says his brain was becoming unwired. CTE is confirmed by autopsy. Many late NFL players have had it, including Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who also committed suicide. Now, Kinzle Zegel is on a mission to let other families know players who never make it to the NFL can get it, too.

"If I had known the repeated tackles my son endured were slowly killing him, I would have stopped it," said Kinzle Zegel. 

At Patrick's alma mater, they eliminated live tackling in practice five years ago.

"I love the game of football, but I love my players more," said Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth College football coach.

Teevens told lawmakers that at first that did not go over well.

"It was not a popular decision amongst my staff, it went from complete ridicule to disbelief to condemnation," said Teevens.

But he says thanks to a mobile tackling device developed at Dartmouth, his teams get more tackling practice. The fear of injuries is reduced, so there is a greater focus on technique. And Big Green has gotten results. Dartmouth has won 17 of 20 games over the last two years and the Ivy League Championship this year. 

And more importantly for this mom of a former player, Dartmouth had zero defensive concussive head injuries this season. She's launched a foundation in Patrick's name to raise awareness about CTE.

"Heading the ball has recently been eliminated in youth soccer, checking in hockey has been eliminated in youth leagues, yet over 2 million children are putting their precious brains at risk in tackle football," said Kinzle Zegel.

That testimony Friday was part of an ongoing review of concussions in youth sports by the House Energy and Commerce committee. The focus is on prevention and research. 

Click here to learn more about the Patrick Risha foundation.

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