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November 16th, 2011
04:32 PM ET

CNN Presents a Dr. Sanjay Gupta Special Report:"Big Hits, Broken Dreams"

Football is a way of life at JH Rose High School in Greenville North Carolina, where Friday nights electrify this otherwise sleepy rural town.

Whether it’s college, high school or pee-wee games, football is a religion here and the players are its disciples. Disciples are laying it all on the line for that precious win ... that elusive trophy.

But football glory comes at a cost.

Concussions are on the rise in high school football and less than 40% of high schools have certified athletic trainers – the key medical personnel who can help diagnose and treat injured players.

In fall of 2008 Jaquan Waller, a Greenville Rose High School junior, died of "second impact syndrome," a fatal swelling of the brain that occurred when he took a blow to his head before his first injury had healed.

Waller returned to play because there no athletic trainer or certified medical personnel to help manage his injury.

Weeks later – another fatal football injury. Matt Gfeller, a sophomore at neighboring Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, died from a single head injury.

The school district was faced with a challenge – to keep players safe from head injuries. So the community banded together with football giant East Carolina University to put athletic trainers on the field and to start high tech tests to monitor students brain health.

Their hope is to return this season to the championships ranks, without losing anyone. But can they get to the top without tragedy?

Follow the Rampants and the Greenville community in the 2011 football season for CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta Special Report: “Big Hits, Broken Dreams” premiering on CNN Presents Sunday, January 29 at 8:00 pm ET, replaying at 11:00 pm ET.

Filed under: brain injury • Jaquan Waller