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Study: Concussion rates in youth football players higher than previously reported (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE--More young football players are injuring their developing brains than first thought. Seattle Children's researchers looked at kids before they reach high school, and they found new information about who's getting hurt.

Andrew Ronneberg was part of their study. The 14-year-old comes from a football family.

"It runs pretty deep," James Ronneberg said of football. He grew up playing and then became a coach. "When my son was born, I just waited for the day."

That day came when Andrew was 6-years-old. In the eight years since, he's racked up awards and one serious injury.

His dad was on the sidelines, while mom Tonya Ronneberg watched from the stands.

"It was a pass play," Andrew remembered. "I rolled out, and he just grabbed my shirt and swung me down."

"He laid there for a few moments which is unlike him," Tonya said.

"It was directly on his head and he just laid there," James said.

"I knew he wouldn't be going back in that game," Tonya said. She was right. Andrew had a concussion.

His team was part of a study at Seattle Children's looking at concussions in young football players - age 5 to 14 - in the Northwest Junior Football League.

Athletic trainers were on the sidelines of each game, and when a player got hurt, the trainer went in to evaluate. After two seasons, they found 5 percent of players suffered a football related concussion. Previous research - where trainers weren't on site - put that number between just 1 percent and 4 percent. Dr. Sara Chrisman says trainers are more likely to make an accurate diagnosis.

"The athletic trainer is basically glued to every tackle and making sure everyone gets up," Chrisman said. "Whenever they see someone who looks like they're not getting up, they're going to go out and assess them. It's to be on the safe side, making sure we don't have kids on the field who aren't at their best. One of our goals has been to make sports safer. And so this study is a little bit of a first step in that, let's understand where we're starting, what are the risks right now and then think about ways to intervene."

Andrew missed a week of school and the rest of the football season. By the next fall, he was back on the gridiron, with no fear.

"There's a safety aspect for everything. Every sport," said Tonya. "Even when your kid's not in a sport. They get hurt on the playground. They get hurt at home. You can't bubble wrap them."

Researchers found kids like Andrew - who had a concussion - are twice as likely to suffer another one.

They also found youth with a history of depression were five times as likely to suffer a concussion. Right now, they can only speculate why that would be.

"There may be a connection between depression and aggression, for example, so it may be those athletes were actually playing more aggressively, putting themselves at risk," Chrisman said.

She added kids with depression could be more sensitive to their own bodies, making them more likely to report their symptoms. It's an area she said needs additional research.

As for the Ronnebergs, they weigh Andrew's risk of injury with the rewards of playing a game he loves. "The teamwork, the camaraderie, the life lessons," James said. "Being part of a team to accomplish bigger things together."

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