During the winter I wrote in Patch about the CNN’s investigative report on brain trauma in youth football. The coverage centered on the death of a high school football player in Eastern North Carolina. The Sonja Gupta special was very thorough and challenged football leagues throughout the country to increase their knowledge and implement changes in light of recently disclosed dangers in playing football.
Substantive change in sports rarely occurs voluntarily. That is however until someone is either severely injured or killed. At that time organizers get very involved. They suddenly appear to be concerned about player safety; all of a sudden. Actually they are concerned about potential litigation. Parents who had knowingly exposed their children to the danger often foolishly object to the rule changes fearing that the changes would impact their child's athletic career. I’m talking about 10-year-olds.
As a professional baseball instructor I have participated in many attempts to increase safety in baseball. Most recently in the past decade (and it was an entire decade) many of us at the national level sought to place reasonable pitch count limits on Little League and youth baseball pitchers. As a legal consultant I provide services to numerous personal injury cases involving child abuse in sports. I am always astounded at the administrative and coaching attempts to rationalize unsafe play. In spite of a preponderance of scientific evidence, organizations resist change for fear of "extra administrative complexity" and diminished competition. But it’s all about the kids! I’m talking about 12-year-olds.
State Level Resistance
Citing similar excuses, the Virginia High School League, which is responsible for athletic standards in Virginia’s public high schools is resisting the implementation of contemporary safety standards for high school pitchers. Perhaps resisting any change they may in fact faintly wave at protecting pitchers and capitulate to outdated rules that Little League abandon many years ago. I’m talking about teenagers. Professional adults in minor league baseball have limited pitch counts.
Common Sense Action
After CNN's report, the collegiate Ivy League implemented changes for the safety of their football student athletes. Last week last week NBC Nightly News led with the story—sweeping changes occur in the manner in which youth football will be played. Their report detailed that Pop Warner Football, the large notional youth football association, instituted dramatic new changes in practice and training. Full equipment practices would be reduced by approximately 65 percent, tackling would be reduced to a distance of no more than 3 feet away from the person being tackle; thereby reducing the number of potential collisions and the momentum of impact. Well done!
"It just makes sense I don't believe in the old school ideas of beating each other up during practice." SLHS Coach Wooten
I placed calls to Reston's football community representatives. Reston Youth Football Association's president did not respond. However the new South Lakes High School Head Football Coach, MJ Wooten, responded immediately. Coach Wooten's comments and attitude were extremely impressive. I asked if he was aware of the recent reports. He responded that as a result of his personal research, he had already made plans to change the practice and training procedure at the high school prior to the Pop Warner announcement. "It just makes sense. I don't believe in the old school ideas of beating each other up during practice." Coach said. He went on to describe his agreement with recent research that reveals that the cumulative effect of sub-concussive, repetitive trauma to the brain happens more often in practice situations and has to date gone unnoticed. Spontaneous concussions are more apparent and occur in actual football in games.
Coach Wooten, a veteran of 20 years of football experience through college, obviously is bringing common sense and contemporary safety training procedures to South Lakes High School. We sincerely hope that Reston's Youth Football program as well as other high school and recreational football entities follow his leadership.
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