Head banging, Kelley Hunt and Baby Toro

by Chris Aaland

Last weekend’s Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony at Fort Lewis College caused me to run a gamut of emotions. I felt great pride when the 1999 men’s soccer team and four individuals – many of whom are close friends – were inducted. I had the distinct honor of presenting the ’99 squad that lost the NCAA championship game in double overtime, having previously called the radio play-by-play for KIUP back on that December day. Transferring my old radio tapes to CD-R for the ceremony brought back fond memories.

Sadness, though, set in as I learned of two former FLC football coaches who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. One even attended the event to celebrate with a former player and another former colleague.

My concern is that both men played football long before they coached it. Recent studies by Congress, the National Football League and other entities link multiple concussions and even repetitive blows to the head – the kind you absorb throughout each football game and full-contact practice – to long-term problems like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s syndrome, dementia and depression.

Recent medical studies have been shocking. Former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters committed suicide at age 44. An examination of his brain tissue revealed it had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man and showed indications of an early onset of Alzheimer’s. Mike Webster, the former Pittsburgh Steelers center and Pro Football Hall of Famer, died at age 50. He suffered from amnesia, dementia, depression and acute bone and muscle pain and was diagnosed after death with a neurodegenerative disease. Some doctors estimated he had been in the equivalent of 25,000 automobile crashes in more than 25 years of playing football.

Hockey players, pro wrestlers, NASCAR drivers, X Games athletes and others also suffer concussions regularly. Back in the day, if you could count the number of fingers your coach was holding up, you immediately went back into action. Fortunately, today’s athletes are held out of practice and competition until they show no further symptoms, sometimes a week or two after the injury.

During my athletic career, I suffered numerous concussions – more than I can count. I’ve been knocked out after making a helmet-to-helmet tackle, stumbled around like a newborn colt after drawing a charge in basketball and hitting my head on the floor, and visited the emergency room after sighting in an elephant rifle and getting my eye too close to the scope. At 6-foot-5, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve banged my head against the tops of doorways, ceilings and into cupboards. While I don’t blame my mood swings, chronic neck pain, lack of focus and short-term memory loss on these concussions, I do stop and wonder.

As I watch the Winter Olympics, I’m impressed by the speed and twirling abilities of skiers, snowboarders, skaters and sledding athletes. But every time I see athletes bang their heads against a half-pipe or the ice, I cringe.

Maybe head-banging should be reserved for music (although I was once nearly knocked out in the mosh pit at a Faith No More concert in Lawrence, Kan.)

Blues- and R&B-based singer/pianist Kelley Hunt returns to the Community Concert Hall at 7 p.m. Saturday for a benefit for the La Plata County Family Centers. The event includes a pre-concert social with appetizers, wine and a silent auction at 5:30. Hunt, who has been said to perform with the passion of Aretha Franklin and the intensity of Bonnie Raitt, has helped raise money for the local nonprofit in the past.

My good buddy Chap Myers, host of KDUR’s “Go Pogo” radio program (9-noon Saturdays), has championed Baby Toro since they burst onto the local scene. The Montezuma County duo hosts its CD release social at 8 p.m. Friday at the Mancos Valley Distillery. The self-titled recording is sparse, gothic alt-country … surreal in the same way as the Handsome Family or old Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.

Russ Crossland is all over the Summit on Saturday. First, he plays a happy hour set from 7-9 p.m., then he’s joined by his Jack Ten High mates at 10. Word on the street is that their sound has morphed into something akin to early Leftover Salmon, a band that’s comfortable with Southern rock, blues, bluegrass and alt-country. The comparison is especially favorable considering Hap Purcell’s new electric banjo was previously owned by onetime Salmon banjo player Noam Pikelny. The quintet is rounded out by Pat Dressen (Durango’s equivalent to Levon Helm on drums, mandolin and vocals), Bill Adams (lap steel, pedal steel and dobro) and Jimmy Largent (upright bass).

Tracorum, an original rock and soul band from the Bay Area, is at the Summit tonight. The band’s instrumentation is pretty straightforward: guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion and vocals. Their sound is a jammy, danceable mesh of funk, R&B, rock and Caribbean.

St. Louis-based Delta blues outfit, the Bottoms Up Blues Band, plays the Summit at 9:15 p.m. Friday. Gigi Love, Mike Coble and Mr. Logan are also on the bill, while Eric Keifer warms things up with an acoustic happy hour from 6-9 p.m. Friday.

The White Iron Band, a fixture on the Minneapolis music scene, brings its raucous blend of country, blues and rock to the Summit on Wednesday.

More stuff: the Purple Haze hosts the Kirk James Blues Band for FAC, Friday night and Saturday night sets; Formula 151 plays the Derailed Saloon at 8 p.m. Friday; Dave Mensch is at Purgy’s at 2 p.m. Friday; and Peter Robot and Smiley Coyote do the Starlight from 9 ‘til close on Saturday.

In honor of last weekend’s FLC Athletic Hall of Fame, here are some highlights of the ceremony:

- Phil Schmitten nearly crying as he inducted his wife, former FLC softball player Chrystal Pesicka Schmitten.

- A photo of soccer donor Martin Dirks stuck in 2 feet of mud in a four-wheeling photo, circa late 1970s.

- Head men’s soccer coach Ogie Kennedy’s pink tie.

- Luc Cisna, captain of the 1999 men’s soccer team, sporting a custom navy & gold blazer emblazoned with the Skyhawk soccer crest. It looked straight out of wardrobe for “The Love Boat.”

- A video produced by the college’s Marketing Office that showed the infamous streaker racing across the field during a 2005 playoff game. •

Is it in my head? E-mail me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net



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