Youth football officials unworried by proposed Illinois law

A St. Charles player makes a tackle last fall in a game at South Adams. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of News-Sentinel.com)

Lawmakers in Illinois and New York recently proposed bills banning organized tackle football for those under age 12. Local youth football leaders believe would be pointless because the precautions already instituted are sufficient.

Proponents of the law were hoping to use Sunday’s Super Bowl as a way to focus the discussion.

But the interesting thing, at least locally, is that football organizers don’t mind talking about concussions and any proposed changes. It helps keep them focused on making sure they are doing everything they can to help keep players healthy. They study the effects more than anyone and are always evaluating to find better ways to teach. They also have the most to lose.

“It’s always a discussion that takes place,” said 35-year Police Athletic League Director Steve Butz. “That’s what makes the decision process even harder because we try to keep updated to be able to look out for the safety of young people. If you feel you are doing as good a job as you can, then you are more comfortable with staying the course. I’m sure this conversation will occur again.”

Coaches in all leagues are required to attend clinics and study online classes as part of the qualifying process. Players who are suspected of having concussion symptoms are removed from the game and cannot return until they receive written documentation from a doctor.

PAL has 486 players on 12 teams ranging in age from 9-to-12. Butz said this year concussions were down, probably thanks in part to some rules changes. On the change of possessions, there were punts with no one rushing the kicker and no returns. PAL also instituted rules to prevent players from rushing too wide on the line of scrimmage.

Metro Youth Sports (MYS) founder and president Jim Winters said the league has Emergency Medical Technicians at every game, and players with serious injuries are required to go to the hospital. If the parents don’t have insurance, the league does, but there was only one claim last season.

“You have to stay on top of this, and we are working hard with our coaches on this,” Winters said. “The No. 1 priority is the child, and it’s our responsibility to protect the child. If we’re not doing that, then we need to go out of business.”

The consequences for not caring very carefully about concussions, Winters said, are not worth it.

MYS has 550 players on 24 teams ranging in age from 7-to-12. There’s also a flag football program for players ages 5-to-7.

“I read about the proposal in Illinois, but I doubt that would work in Indiana,” Winters said. “Indiana has a strong interest in youth football, and that’s going to be tough to get through the legislature.”

The Catholic Youth Organization football program has four teams representing all the Catholic elementary schools. Like every local league, CYO studies and teaches the newer USA Football tackling techniques.

“If someone comes up to us and complains of anything that can be related to a concussion, they are shut down until they bring a note from a doctor,” said St. Charles coach Sam Talarico who retired after 10 years last season. “The vast majority of concussions seem to come from a head hitting the ground and not from a player hitting another player.”

Talarico worries that if tackle football is banned players will be unprepared to play when they reach middle school, and that may have repercussions when the players enter high school programs.

“The sport has been under attack and there are things that bother me about that,” Talarico said. “There’s a spot for every kid on the team, and it’s also the ultimate team sport. I hate to see it under attack all the time.”

Flag football may eventually be an option for the leagues if tackle football is banned, but that won’t stop boys from playing tackle football in the backyard… usually without helmets.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to that point yet,” Butz said. “In the long run, whether it’s flag or tackle, we’re still involved with the young people in the community, and that’s our main objective. It’s just a balance point, and player safety is always the discussion that takes place, and are we doing worthwhile things to help with that.”

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