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Study on Effects of Heading Highlights U.S. Soccer Foundation Grant Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, May 21, 2001) - The U.S. Soccer Foundation completed its sixth annual grant process by awarding nearly $2 million to 47 groups nationwide, headlined by a $106,000 award to fund a major medical study of the effects of heading the ball on soccer players' cognitive functions.

The five-year study will be undertaken by the U.S. Soccer Federation and its medical professionals.

"Our grants committee and our Board of Directors were both very concerned that such a study be undertaken," said Foundation Chairman James D. Hamilton. "As everyone knows, the heading issue receives a great deal of publicity, but the worldwide research to date is not complete; this study will follow the same athletes for five years, charting their medical histories rather than simply comparing soccer athletes to other groups. This type of longitudinal study will produce significant medical data which we think will quell the debate," said Hamilton.

The scientific study will be managed by the Federation's Sports Medicine department and spearheaded by University of North Carolina Orthopedic Clinical Assistant Professor Donald Kirkendall. Prof. Kirkendall has reviewed more than 50 studies that have been done during the past half century and has found that there is not a direct linkage between head injury and purposeful heading of the ball.

"In purposeful heading, where you're actually trying to head the ball and actually do make contact, the impact is spread out over the whole body because your head is fixed to your body by a tensed neck," says Dr. Kirkendall. "We do not see head injuries coming from purposeful heading.

"The most common method of sustaining head injuries in a game is from contact with another player, or head contact with the ground or very rarely head to goalpost contact. The resulting injury is from the impact of the contact, not from heading the ball," Dr. Kirkendall says.

The heading study will involve every player on the United States youth national teams (U16, U17, U18, U20, U23 men; U16, U18, U21 women). They each will fill out a detailed questionnaire on their injury history over the previous year with a special focus on head injuries. Under the supervision of the chief medical officers of the Federation, each player will complete a series of cognitive function tests, and all of this data will be collected for five years.

"The bottom line is that purposeful heading does not seem to be a factor in cognitive problems that have been frequently mentioned. It's the head injuries, the concussions," Dr. Kirkendall added.

"Our hypothesis is that diminution of cognitive function comes from head injury, not simply heading the ball," says U.S. Soccer Federation Secretary General Dan Flynn. "By gathering all this data, we can follow the patterns of individual athletes over time, a type of study that has not been done anywhere in the world."

The heading study, while the largest single grant recipient, was just one of the programs and capital field development initiatives funded during the grant cycle. In all, 24 groups received funds for programming, most of them aimed at inner-city soccer or at providing opportunities for the physically and mentally challenged.

An additional 24 organizations received monies to help in the development of new fields, viewed by the Foundation as one of the most critical issues facing soccer today. The money will affect the development and maintenance of nearly 200 fields in the United States, more than 100 of which will be new in their local communities.

"We have made a substantial philosophical commitment to underwriting field development," commented Hamilton after the Board of Directors approved the grants at a meeting here this weekend. "The game has grown so quickly that the need for playing fields has far outstripped the community resources available, including our own. But we will give as much as we can and work with local groups to find public-private partnerships to address this critical issue of recreational and competition fields in our cities and towns."

The U.S. Soccer Foundation's grant process has awarded more than $14 million so far to groups large and small in all corners of the United States. The Foundation is the development arm of the game in America and emphasizes education, field development and player development. Headed by Chairman James D. Hamilton and by Executive Director Herbert V. Giobbi, the Foundation operates from Washington, DC.