PITTSFIELD -- Kyle Shade can't stand being on the sidelines at Pittsfield High School games. He's a senior and a three-sport athlete. He's meant to be on the field.
And from just looking at him, you can't see anything wrong with him.
"I look fine, right?" he says.
What's going on inside Kyle's head, though, is what keeps him off any field right now.
Shade was a key part of the Generals football team last year, playing running back and cornerback. One of his toughest assignments in county play would be to keep St. Joseph in check in the city's biggest gridiron rivalry game.
That proved to be tough, and not just due to the Crusaders' offensive prowess that would eventually give them a win at Wahconah Park.
While running a vertical route, Shade went up for a pass thrown by brother Chad, the Pittsfield quarterback. St. Joe defensive back Jon Bianchi went for the ball, too.
When they met in mid-air, their helmets collided.
"Straight to the side of my head," Kyle said. "I didn't even see him or anything."
Shade stayed in the game. Later, he fielded a punt and headed up the PHS sideline. He spun off one hit, and lowered his shoulder to take another hit that knocked him out of bounds. Again, he sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit.
The resulting concussion was at least the second he sustained as a high schooler -- he'd suffered one before his sophomore year -- and it ended his 2012 season.
And, as it turns out, his 2013 season. Because of lingering effects from that concussion, which still affect him a year later, Shade hasn't been cleared to resume any contact. His football career is over. He may not play basketball in the winter, because it's considered a contact sport. No one is yet sure about baseball.
The emotional pain of losing a sport he loves, though, is nothing for Shade, compared to the physical pain he still has almost a year after his injury.
"The main thing is a headache every day," he said.
It's not as bad as it used to be. He missed a week of school last year, and his equilibrium was so affected that he needed balance therapy for a few months.
Now there's periodic dizziness, but mostly headaches. They can be brought on by looking at a computer screen for too long, or even by studying and reading.
"He has good days; he has bad days," Kyle's father Bob said. "Some days are mild. Other days, they intensify. It kind of depends upon what he's doing that day."
He's fought through the headaches, though, and has recovered academically.
"At the end of last year, [grades] were probably a little bit below average," Kyle said. "I could barely make it through the school day."
According to his dad, Kyle is maintaining a high-honor average, and is looking at colleges for next year. That's a far cry from needing tutoring and days off from school.
"The thing I'm proud of the most is that he's been able to keep his grades up," Bob said.
The grades will get Kyle far academically, but it's still hard to only be able to use half of the term "student-athlete."
He can run during practices -- as a team captain, Shade is still there for workouts and games -- and he's occasionally worn a helmet for running drills. But even too much exercise can trigger the headaches. He's still seeing a doctor at least once a month, as well as a neurologist every couple of months. Kyle's father hasn't ruled out taking him to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for an examination.
For a three-sport athlete and a senior, missing out on games he loves has been just as trying.
"Sometimes, I'm OK," he said. "Other times, when I think about it, I just get really depressed."
And coming from a sports-loving family -- Bob is WBRK Radio's sports director, as well as a chain-gang member for many PHS football games -- Kyle is aware of the lasting effects of concussions on football players at many levels.
"There's a lot of them that have dementia and stuff like that, right?" he said. "It definitely affects me a lot more than it would affect the average person who hasn't gotten any concussions."
As much as he would still love to be in full pads and hitting opponents on the football field, Kyle knows he's making the right decisions. He no longer believes playing through a head injury makes someone tough. He's waiting patiently for his body to tell him that he's recovered fully from the concussion. He's hoping to play baseball for PHS in the spring.
Most importantly, he asks himself one question as he looks to the future:
"The person [I am] in 10 or 15 years, will they thank me for not playing?" he said.
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