Forty-two percent of the football players on Fairfax County high school teams were injured during the first six weeks of the 1981 season, according to a report compiled by the Northern Virginia Sports Medicine Association.
The injuries ranged from cuts and bruises to bone fractures and ligament damage, but only 20 percent of those hurt were deemed to need examination by a physician. The report covered only Fairfax County, but most athletic directors in the Washington area say their football injury figures are probably comparable.
"It is very difficult for a football player to go through a season without some kind of strain or injury," said Dr. P.M. Palumbo, a Northern Virginia sports medicine specialist and a former team physician for the Redskins and Capitals. "The report sounds just about right."
Perry Esterson, secretary treasurer of the Northern Virginia Sports Medicine Association, said, "Half of everybody out there is getting injured. It's a high percentage, but football is an aggressive contact sport."
The association presented its report to the Fairfax County School Board Thursday while requesting additional funding to pay for athletic trainers at all Fairfax high schools for all sporting events year round. Only 12 of the county's 23 high schools have trainers; they work primarily during the varsity football season.
The report covers varsity, junior varsity and ninth grade football programs at nine Fairfax high schools, but William E. Mathews Jr., president of the association, said its findings are applicable to the entire system with a 2 percent margin of error.
Of the total number of participants during the six-week period -- 1,850 players -- 787 reported being injured. There were 231 sprains, 207 strains or muscle-tendon injuries and 37 bone fractures. Sixteen of the players were injured so severely they are expected to miss the rest of the season.
Mathews said he knew of at least one ruptured spleen directly attributable to football, one bruised kidney and several chronic infections that were aggravated by continued participation in football.
On the first day of football practice this year, a 16-year-old offensive lineman at Robinson High School, Jon Walsh, collapsed and died while running on the school track. Another player, Charles D. Ogren Jr., an offensive lineman at Lake Braddock, underwent brain surgery last Saturday following a football game with Robinson, although it has not yet been determined if he was injured during the game.
Fairfax School Superintendent Linton Deck said, "We all deplore the kinds of things that have happened, but they do happen from time to time. We wouldn't want anyone to assume we haven't had a very sound program."
"If we offer athletics in high schools, we can afford to put in safety measures," said Theodore L. Voorhees, a student who is a member of the school board. The board took the request for additional trainers under consideration.
Although the Fairfax football injury report was one of the most detailed in recent years, most athletic officials elsewhere in the area did not seem to be surprised by its findings.
"It is conceivable that if you have 100 kids playing football at 22 schools, 1,000 of them might suffer some kind of bump, bruise or sprain," said Ed Masood, director of athletics for the Montgomery County school system.
Otto Jordan, athletic director for Washington's public schools, said, "I know there are bruises and scrapes, but 42 percent seems high to me. I have no data to back this up, but I don't feel our system is that high."
Steve Himes, a trainer at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School, said, "In any year, you're going to see a lot of strains and sprains and hopefully only a few fractures. You hope the sprains and strains that do arise are nonsurgical types . . . It fluctuates from year to year."