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DALLAS -- A $765-million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries in the NFL has many wondering now about youth athletes and protecting their growing brains from concussion.

Former Dallas Cowboy Jay Novacek said it was a part of his game, but it shouldn't be a part of kids' games.

"They go a little bit overboard here, especially in this state, with the length of the season for these kids that are 10-, 12-years-old, and full pads, and contact, and full games," said the former Cowboys tight end.

Novacek discourages heavy contact in youth players that attend his football camps. He a consultant with the NFL Legends group, connecting former players to financial and medical resources, many of which did not exist for former players.

Concussions account for more than one-in-10 sports-related injuries. High school athletes who have suffered one concussion are are three times more likely to suffer another one in the same season, according to a 2007 study titled Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes.

And, it's not just football.

"We see a lot of hockey players and a lot of football players and a lot of female soccer players," said Brandon Brock, a clinician with Carrick Brain Centers. "And they have really suffered from it. And these are kids in high school."

Carrick Brain Centers treats many youth and professional athletes for the long-term effects of concussion. In some cases, the effects are life-altering.

"Memory loss, difficulties moving, walking, talking," Brock said. "We have to make sure that we take care of those kids so that they're not debilitated in the third or fourth decade of life, rather than the seventh or eighth."

It's why a growing number of school districts are requiring ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) as young as middle school, before any athlete takes to the field.

The online test gets a baseline on attention, memory, and reaction time. It gives coaches and physicians something to compare after a hard hit.

Still, a study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus found that as many as 40 percent of high school athletes return to play too soon.

If they've had multiple head injuries, Brock tells parents it might be time to make a tough decision.

"To just not play that sport anymore, doing something different," he advises. "But you've got to protect them and not expose them to more damage."

Signs of concussion can be subtle and may not appear immediately. Common symptoms include confusion, amnesia, headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea and vomiting, and slurred speech.

Later symptoms may include mood and cognitive disturbances, sensitivity to light and noise, and sleep disturbances.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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