It was heartbreaking. The Grange family knew it would be, and they were prepared.
But that didn’t prevent a burst of tears – followed by a burst of pride – after reporter Jeremy Schapp’s emotional account about the late Pat Grange. The story ran on ESPN’s investigative show “Outside the Lines” on Friday.
“That it was hard. It was sad,” said Mike Grange, father of Pat, a former Albuquerque High and University of New Mexico soccer star who died of ALS at age 29. “But it was an important, excellent piece. It said exactly what we wanted to come out, and what Pat wanted to come out, too.”
Mike and Pat’s mother Michele watched “Pat’s Story” while in Washington, D.C., where they were attending a conference about head trauma. Shortly after watching, Michele said they went to a local grill, and “a person came up to us and recognized us from the story, and told us how important the message was.”
Mike said ESPN informed him the story could run again today on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and will air again at 4 p.m. Sunday on “E:60″ on ESPN2.
After Grange died in April 2012 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, his parents allowed Pat’s brain to be studied. In February, it was reported that Pat was the first named case of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy diagnosed in a soccer player.
Schapp interviewed Pat and his family three years ago, and ESPN has followed the story since.
“Having the ESPN story come out now made it hard emotionally,” Michele said. “But it made us feel good that we are carrying on the message.”
ESPN’s story went into detail about the theory that years of “heading” soccer balls could have caused Pat’s disease.
“Pat was so intense and so coordinated as a kid, he started (heading the ball) at the age of 3,” Michele said. “Who would have known then? The youth are mostly at risk, because the neck is not developed, and (the head can’t take the blows).
“Our message is about education and awareness, and making it safer for kids. Hopefully, research will take off so the medical community can stay on top of brain damage.”
Mike added: “This is not about sports. Sports are important. It’s about making sports safer.”
The Granges said SLICE – the Sports Legacy Institute Community Educators – has a program to create concussion awareness in sports. It has been a hot topic at the conference.
“It’s trying to educate and train coaches, parents and the kids about telling coaches if they get a head injury,” Mike said. “It tells kids to mention it to a coach if they see another player get hit, because sometimes kids are embarrassed and sensitive to say anything. They don’t want others to think they are a wimp. It’s like a peer program. It teaches kids to be honest and not worry about being macho.”
Mike said the conference stressed the importance of identifying a concussion: “You don’t have to be knocked out to have one. Many times it’s a subconcussion, which is really dangerous. Sometimes you’re just dizzy or are seeing stars. The most important thing to do if that happens is rest the brain.”
The American Youth Soccer Organization, which has a chapter in Albuquerque, isn’t resting when it comes to the issue of brain injuries. AYSO “does not recommend heading below the age of 10,” the organization’s website says.
“Headers are part of the game, and soccer is a great game. We’re definitely not giving up on that,” Mike said. “Our 5-year-old grandson plays. But doing headers at a young age, especially repeatedly in practice, is so dangerous.”
The Granges said the ESPN story was a huge step in their quest to protect youngsters from head trauma.
“We had tears in our eyes watching it,” Michele said. “But it makes us feel somewhat comfortable that we are helping Pat make a difference. We hope to make a change and have a lot more research about ALS. It killed our son.”