Player safety best reason for football reclassification

Posted Dec. 03, 2010, at 8:18 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 03, 2010, at 11:33 p.m.

As reported in the BDN this week, Maine high school football will continue to be composed of three classes. The discussion to add a fourth will go on and could be implemented in three years if approved.

Much of the discussion is about what class particular schools would end up in under a new alignment. That concern should not be about who one will have to play, but how safe will playing in that class be for the players.

All of football has come under needed scrutiny for the myriad serious injuries that are piling up at every level.

In an article this past January at Time.com, the extent of the problem at the high school level was stated.

“Football has been a rough sport since the leather-helmet days, but today’s version raises the violence to an art form. No other contact sport gives rise to as many serious brain injuries as football does. High school football players alone suffer 43,000 to 67,000 concussions per year, though the true incidence is likely much higher, as more than 50 percent of concussed athletes are suspected of failing to report their symptoms.”

Part of the reason for these numbers are the inequities in size and talent that occur at the high school level. Part of that inequity results from the very reason the kids are on the field in the first place.

The reasons students play runs from those who like the sport to those with parents who all but drag them onto the field with a leash, spouting something about how playing the game will make them better men or women even though the kid as little interest in football.

It would be nice if all parents and coaches understood the factors that lead a kid to the field and if all had a primary concern for safety regarding their participation. Unfortunately, as noted in the Time article, such is not the case.

“Bravery. Bravado. Machismo. These qualities create superior football players. But they can be poisonous. ‘You’ve got to change the culture, change the mentality,’ says (Kyle) Turley (a former NFL lineman). ‘This whole archaic notion that football is everything, all these stupid things coaches go around saying, comparing football to the military … It’s not.’”

This brings us back to the realignment of high school football in Maine.

The primary and overriding concern in any realignment should be the safety the very realignment provides or dangers it creates for the players.

One of the factors in realignment in Maine is to narrow the gap in enrollments among the classes.

Larger schools have more kids to choose from and that seemingly leads to better talent and size in the long run. Reverse that for smaller schools. Any action that brings kids of comparable abilities and size together is a worthy goal and, without knowing of any studies regarding this, narrowing the enrollment gap among the classes would seem to do that.

Sure, there will always be exceptions in any given year, but we are trying to equalize the competition as much as possible for the greatest period of time.

If there are schools whose football history does not match the class they are in based on enrollment, there should be exceptions made to move schools up or down as needed to provide safety for players on both sides of the ball.

Since there are coaches and parents who still want the macho, bravado stuff to rule, it is up to the Maine Principals’ Association to take a leadership role in this matter and ensure that all decisions regarding realignment first point to safety for the players.

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