By Michael Burke
After years and months together spent working toward a collective goal, the bonds that teammates form can last a lifetime. Good teammates are always there for each other. But when it comes to concussions, it can be difficult to know when it’s the right time to step in and get help for a teammate.
The Teammate of the Year from the 2017-2018 season showed us how important it is to Speak Up on a teammate’s behalf when you suspect they might have a concussion.
Sydney DeMasi from the Somerville High School Girls Soccer team went above and beyond to protect her teammate Samiyra.
With only a few minutes left in one of the final games of the 2017 season, a forceful kick by the opposing team struck Samiyra directly in the forehead. Sydney witnessed the ball hit Samiyra and, as good teammates do, went to check on her.
As Sydney remembers it, “Sami was like ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ But then it got to the point where she was unsteady walking.” So, Sydney informed Somerville’s athletic trainer Michelle Kelly that something was wrong with her teammate, and also told Samiyra to check in with Michelle.
The next day in school, Sydney sought out Samiyra to see how she was feeling. “I asked her if she saw Michelle or the coach. She said, ‘No I think I’m fine.’”
Despite Samiyra’s assurances that she felt okay, Sydney suspected that she was hurting. Sydney noticed Samiyra was squinting at the lights and she admitted to getting headaches. “Sami is not one to speak out when she’s hurt, she’s very quiet…[but] I was told by another teammate she was falling asleep in class which isn’t like her, so I told her to go see Michelle,” said Sydney. Still worried, Sydney followed up with Michelle Kelly and Samiyra later that day to be sure that she reported her symptoms. It turned out that Samiyra did have a concussion.
Samiyra was diagnosed and entered the concussion protocol to start her rest and recovery process right away. But not long ago, a concussion like Samiyra’s might have gone unnoticed and undiagnosed. It’s impossible for coaches and athletic trainers to monitor every player at all times, so occasionally concussions can slip through the cracks. That’s why looking out for teammates and speaking up when a concussion is suspected, the core principles of the Team Up Speak Up program, is so crucial to keeping athletes safe.
Team Up Speak Up encourages coaches to give a speech at the beginning of every season asking their players to speak up if they think a teammate might have a concussion. Understanding that injured athletes often cannot recognize when they have a concussion, or that they may feel pressure to stay in the game, the goal of the program is to create a positive concussion culture and make sure athletes with a possible concussion are removed and checked immediately. Studies show that immediate removal is the key to getting them back to full strength and back in the game most quickly.
And that’s just what Sydney did. Michelle Kelly and head coach Tony Arias have created a positive concussion culture on the team by teaching their athletes how to recognize the signs of a concussion and about the importance of speaking up if they think a teammate has a concussion. “The kids really do look out for each other,” said Michelle Kelly. “The soccer team in particular has this family mentality where they protect each other.”
That protective family environment is obvious in Sydney’s actions and in how she speaks about her teammate. “Sami is a big part of the team,” said Sydney. “If she wasn’t able to play ever again because she got hurt worse, it wouldn’t just hurt us, it would hurt her. Soccer is something she loves and we all love, and we all want to be part of it together.”
“I’m very proud of what Sydney has done during the couple of years that she has been with the program, especially when she took initiative that night with Samiyra’s case,” said Coach Arias. “She is one of those people where if she wants something done, she gets it done. That’s her character and I was not surprised that she handled it so well.”
Michelle echoed Coach Arias’ praise of Sydney. “To be able to recognize that someone is in distress – make sure they’re ok – realize they’re not ok – and to tell somebody about it then make sure the follow up happened, I think that’s something pretty remarkable. We don’t see that all the time.”
The Concussion Legacy Foundation is proud to present the Teammate of the Year Award to Sydney and hope that more athletes follow her outstanding leadership.