Partly because of all the recent concussion discussion in the National Football League, one of Fort Wayne's entry-level football programs is changing its policies this fall. The Metro Youth Football League is adopting rules that prohibit a player who has exhibited concussion symptoms from returning to a game until he has been cleared by a doctor.
``They are looking at when a child should start playing football, and we want to be ahead of the ballgame and make sure we take care of our children right now,'' MYFL president Jim Winters said. ``We want the children to have fun, but we have to look out for their wellness.''
This is a dramatic rule change considering it takes decision-making away from coaches and parents when a player shows any symptoms. Parents will be informed about the possibility of a concussion and will also be presented with a fact sheet on concussions.
``Normally when a child says he has a headache, he has to let his parents take a look at it, but you can't take a headache lightly any more,'' said Winters who has been with the league for 38 years. ``We have some parents who will say he's going to be OK and put him back in. We have to make sure we are here first for the safety of the children.''
MYFL, which has 850 participants from ages 7 through 12, recently purchased 200 new helmets. Winters said he doesn't believe any MYFL players suffered concussions last year but said waiting for a problem may be too late.
Fort Wayne's Police Athletic League adopted similar rules last year, Director Steve Butz said. PAL does not keep statistics on concussions, but Butz could recall two players with symptoms last year.
``We're very attuned to being very careful,'' Butz said. ``We're in the process now of also looking at doing a cutback on contact during practices. How far back do we need to go? We're taking a little glance at that. There's also going to be more instruction on proper tackling using the shoulder and not the head.''
The PAL program serves 700 players from ages 9 through 12.
The Catholic Youth Organization, which provides football for an estimated 500 players in grades 5 through 8, is lucky enough to have trainers from SportOne at each game.
``It's an ongoing education process to get away from the old-school idea that you fight through the pain and get back out there,'' said JAT (St. Joseph/St. Elizabeth, St. Aloysius and St. Therese) Knights coach Mike Gigli. ``It's something very serious and needs to be dealt with appropriately. At the youth level, our goal is to keep them healthy and keep them excited about the sport.''