OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- It's a sign of the times in high school sports. Coaches have to bench athletes when they suffer concussions.
There's a comeback of sorts on at Blue Valley Northwest High School, and junior Ryan Kelly wants to end it on his terms. He remembers a seven-week stretch, from October to December last year, when he suffered a pair of concussions in a short time. That's when Kelly made the voluntary decision to step away from contact sports.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever made," Kelly said.
Kelly said he suffered one concussion during a football collision, and the other seven weeks later during a wrestling meet. He returned to physical competition after passing an impact test administered by his doctor, but he didn't feel the same.
"I felt bad," Kelly said. "My head was pounding and the light was just hurting insanely bad. I couldn't control it."
Kelly's parents enlisted the aid of a concussion recovery program from the University of Kansas hospital. Physical therapist Jennifer Zentz has been working with Kelly to prepare him for a return to the sports he loves.
"We follow a formal return-to-play guideline to make sure they're ready to go back to play," Zentz explained.
Kelly advises other high school athletes who have experienced head injuries not to come back too quickly.
"If you're not feeling yourself, and you're not feeling right, don't go back to sports. That's my biggest regret," Kelly said.
Kelly says he's looking ahead to 2015's football season, when he sees how his rehab pays off once he tries again on the football field.
Kelly spent this past football season working as an equipment manager with Blue Valley Northwest. Mike Zegunis, Northwest High's head coach, says he's welcome to try out whenever he's ready.