BROOKFIELD – At the age of 18, Rowan Sears’ hockey career is already over.
The Brookfield teenager suffered his fourth concussion in four years after an open-ice, blind-sided hit to the head while playing with the Pictou County Weeks Major Midgets during a regular season game in Sydney last month.
His mother, Jill Sears, said her son is filled with sadness and hopes his story will help change penalties for such hits.
“He went down,” she said, about the hit during the first period of the Feb. 3 game. “He was able to skate over to his coach. My husband and I thought the only reason he got up was that he knew, if he didn’t get up on his own, he would be off the ice altogether.”
Rowan’s first concussion happened when he was 14, and the young hockey player hit his head on the ice at that time. His third concussion also came from a blind-sided hit to the head on open ice. Following this fourth concussion, the teenager missed three weeks of school and saw a concussion therapist twice a week.
This concussion affected his balance, vision, and stability, and left him with pressure in his head.
Sears said the opposing player who delivered the most recent hit received a four-minute penalty, which she and her husband both feel isn’t enough.
“We felt the penalty this time was nowhere near what they should’ve been awarded,” she said.
Rowan started playing organized hockey at the age of 5, which both parents thought was strange.
“Hockey is his passion, it’s his life. He’s lived and breathed hockey,” said Sears. “We were never into hockey. We are now – we saw the love it brought Rowan.”
But that love has since turned to sadness for the young man, who had played for the Brookfield Elks and Truro Bearcats (major bantam, atom, and peewee), and even spent a year with Newbridge Academy. He had been drafted to the Yarmouth Mariners in the Jr A league, which was his goal.
In his final year with the Weeks organization, he played as assistant captain.
“He was proud to receive that letter from his coach,” said Rowan’s mother. “He works hard and is always so inclusive of the rookies of the team, making them part of the team from the beginning.”
Along with Rowan, Sears and her husband are disappointed he can no longer play the sport he loves. Sears said it’s like “mourning a loss.”
Less than a week after the hit, Sears took to social media to share Rowan’s story, and has been overwhelmed by the support she’s received since. She’s had many people send messages thanking her for speaking out, and some have shared it’s happened to their child or children, some even younger than Rowan.
Through the Weeks organization, Sears said Rowan’s story will be shared with the league, the chief referee, and Hockey Nova Scotia.
“From talking to others who have similar stories, we’ve learned they haven’t been able to make it far on their own, so we’re going through the Weeks with our story. We feel we’ll get more results by going through them,” said Sears.
Hockey Nova Scotia, she said, has a rule of immediate ejection if a player administers three hits to the head of opposing players.
“We feel the hit to our son’s head should have been immediate as well,” she said. “We feel those players should receive stiffer penalties for open-ice, blind-sided hits because the intention is there. The penalty isn’t enough. Maybe we’ll see something like ‘Rowan’s Rule.’”
Sears says research shows it takes longer to recover after each time you suffer a concussion.
“We do see a sadness in Rowan. We were seeing in our son, with each concussion received, it was possible the injury was becoming more permanent.”
She said her son has resigned to the fact he won’t play hockey anymore, however is looking to other upcoming opportunities, including representing the province at the national fast pitch level.
“He’s a smart kid. It’s his future and he knows he has to think about that,” she said.