The opening night of football season, Mike MacIntyre was busy coaching his San Jose State team against Stanford. What he didn't know was, on another local field, a high school game had come to a sudden and frightening halt.
His 17-year-old son Jay, the Valley Christian High quarterback, had been slammed violently on his head and would be rushed to the hospital.
"Your mind goes to a bad place," said MacIntyre, who received the news right after his game ended. "Is it his neck? It's very scary when it's your kid, you're not there and suddenly you're on the phone with your wife who is saying: 'I'm in the ambulance with our son.'"
Jay wasn't injured as badly as his father had feared. But he did sustain a concussion in the Aug. 31 game. And at a time of unprecedented concern about sports-related brain trauma, the school and family decided to hold him out of the next game to make sure he had fully recovered -- a decision applauded by California's top prep athletic official.
But that night MacIntyre, a coach with a growing profile for his rebuilding of the SJSU program, was just a very worried dad.
"He's doing really well now," MacIntyre said. "But it's still nerve-wracking when I think about it."
That Friday was big for both father and son. MacIntyre was beginning his third season at SJSU. While the Spartans fell short, the 20-17 loss at Stanford Stadium against the highly regarded Cardinal was evidence that he has the program
Jay, a Valley Christian junior, also was playing in his opener. Late in the third quarter, he was running out of bounds when a Vacaville defender body-slammed him on his head.
"At least that's what people told me later because I don't remember much," Jay said. "When I woke up, they put me on a stretcher. It probably was just precautionary, but it was scary because I was really out of it. I thought I must be hurt worse because of all the EMS people who were around me."
The crowd, said Valley Christian coach Mike Machado, went quiet as the player was attended by medical personnel for about 25 minutes.
"He was not very responsive, so we decided to play it safe," Machado added. "We got him to where he belonged at that moment -- the trauma center."
Trisha MacIntyre, Jay's mom, called her brother-in-law Matt, who was at Stanford Stadium. She explained that Jay was being transported to Valley Medical Center and to tell her husband as soon as the college game concluded.
He rushed from the stadium to the hospital.
"I could tell he was really worried, but once he was assured that it wasn't the neck, he was better," Jay said. "But he was still mad about losing his game because he thought they should have won."
Diagnosed with a concussion, Jay was sent home and his parents kept a close watch on him throughout the night. After suffering headaches and dizziness the next day, he began feeling better.
The following week, he passed neurocognitive tests and physical testing to make sure the symptoms didn't return with exertion. Still, he was kept off the field last Friday.
"He wanted to play, but I told him no," his father said. "The trainer at the school told him no. The coach told him no. No way, shape or form was he getting back out there yet."
MacIntyre's adamant stance was the result of his own coaching experience. Last season, SJSU quarterback Matt Faulkner suffered a concussion and he was kept him out of action for a time even after he was cleared to return.
"I've learned that it's the second one, if it's close to the first one, that's dangerous," MacIntyre said of concussions. "In the heat of battle, you want to win. But there's more important stuff in life than football."
Jay resumed practicing this week. Because Valley Christian doesn't play Friday, he will have a break of 22 days between games.
"After I passed my tests, it kind of felt like I was out for no reason," Jay said. "My dad said that back in the day, he would have gone right back out there. But that's because they didn't know any better."
Roger Blake, the California Interscholastic Federation executive director, said this is how a concussion should be managed.
Under a new state law, high-school athletes suspected of suffering concussions must be removed from play the rest of that day and cannot return without approval by a health-care professional with head-trauma expertise.
"Winning games and championships is fun and can be great for a community, but health and safety has to come first," Blake said. "This is a great example of erring on the side of caution and letting the brain fully recover."
Valley Christian has two athletic trainers, but Blake said only 19 percent of California schools have them on campus. That's why the law, he added, is important.
"What we're already hearing is that families are bringing kids to the doctor that they never saw before," he added. "Health-care professionals are telling them, 'You might think you're ready, but you really aren't ready to play next Friday night.'"
Jay uses the exact same word as his father to describe that night: Scary. But he's happy to be practicing again.
"I hate to miss a game," he added, "but I knew they were doing it for my own health."
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.