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Shiloh Christian football team featured in April 12 'FRONTLINE' on AETN

“FRONTLINE” investigates the new face of high school football by following the Shiloh Christian High School team in “Football High,” airing on the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) Tuesday, April 12, at 9 p.m.

Corporate sponsorships, nationally televised games, minute-by-minute coverage on sports websites – for players, parents and coaches, high school football has never been bigger. This episode of “FRONTLINE” examines whether enough is being done to ensure players’ safety as the intensity of the sport grows.

Football observers and sports journalists alike agree that on average, high school players’ size, speed and strength have increased dramatically over the past five to 10 years – with some players weighing in at more than 300 pounds.

“The ramping up of pressure on high school kids…and the increase of media attention on high school football, my God, in the last 10 years, it’s become like a little NFL,” Gregg Easterbrook, a writer and columnist for ESPN, said.

“FRONTLINE” centers its investigation in Arkansas, where two players collapsed from heatstroke last year while practicing during one of the hottest summers on record. The players were placed in the same intensive care unit in Little Rock, both having suffered extensive damage to their internal organs. One survived, but the other died in the hospital three months after his collapse.

“There should never, ever be a person [dying] from exertional heatstroke, because it’s 100 percent preventable,” Dr. Doug Casa, a leading expert on heatstroke, said.

In the wake of the tragedy in Arkansas, “FRONTLINE” investigates the differences in the two boys’ fates. Only one of the boys’ teams had an athletic trainer on staff, which reflects the reality in most of Arkansas: Only 15 percent of the schools in the state have a certified medical professional at games and practices, slightly below the national average.

“Football High” follows the Shiloh Christian Saints, a private school team in Springdale, detailing the team’s intense year-round training regimen. During the playing season, head injuries sustained by one Shiloh running back illuminate the dangers of the estimated 60,000 concussions suffered each year by high school football players.

In 2010, researchers discovered a degenerative mental disease in the brain of 21-year-old Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football player who committed suicide last year – and had never reported a concussion throughout his football career.

Thomas’ brain showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the same mental degenerative disease rampant in the brains of NFL players with serious mental problems.

“It has totally changed what I thought about this game,” researcher Dr. Ann McKee said. “Anybody who’s playing the game, this could happen; this could be the result.”

“Football High” is a “FRONTLINE” production with Ark Media produced by Rachel Dretzin and Caitlin McNally and written and directed by Dretzin.

“FRONTLINE” is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for “FRONTLINE” is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for “FRONTLINE” is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by Reva and David Logan. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation and the “FRONTLINE” Journalism Fund.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas’s statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit www.aetn.org, or follow the AETN blog at www.aetn.org/engage. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).

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