Attention to safe football practices has earned the Stearns High School football program one of Riddell’s 2018 Smarter Football equipment grants.
Stearns of Millinocket was recognized in part for its implementation of rugby-style tackling practices designed to teach players to lead with their shoulders instead of their heads when initiating contact.
“We’re always trying to think of different ways to enhance safety on the field, and one way is teaching kids to tackle in a safer way than what may have been taught in the past,” second-year Stearns head coach Cody Herring said. “We’ve also got these new Guardian (padded helmet) caps that we wear in practice every single day to minimize the contact of hits in practice.”
With the $10,000 grant, the Millinocket school has been able to purchase football-related equipment at cost from Riddell, the leading manufacturer of football helmets and shoulder pads and a top provider of reconditioning services — cleaning, repairing, repainting and re-certifying existing equipment.
“The school has been very good to us; we got a pile of new helmets last year and we had planned to order a pile this year, too,” Herring said. “Then we got the grant so we got 20 brand-new helmets and 20 brand-new shoulder pads, which obviously is huge for our program because otherwise it would have taken years to accumulate that much new equipment.
“That alone makes it safer for our kids.”
Off the field, Stearns emphasizes proper hydration practices and organizes regular team meals to ensure that each athlete receives proper nutrition prior to game day.
“It is like a full-time job for us as a program to keep our kids healthy because we have no room for error,” said Herring, who this season has only 23 players. “Doing things like hydration and taking extra breaks in practice and finding ways to make it safer for them is key for us and we’re just trying to get better and better at it every year.”
Stearns was one of 18 grant winners selected through an online application process. The recipients are composed of one college team, 12 high school programs, two middle-school teams and three youth organizations.
Approximately 1,400 teams applied for the grants, with the winners announced by Riddell brand ambassador Peyton Manning via personalized messages.
“Through the application that coach Herring sent us we got a really good sense of the football tradition that Stearns has had in Maine dating back to the mid-’70s,” said Riddell communications manager Justin Kenny, “and coach also iterated how much the school was in need of new equipment.
“He explained to us the approaches they’re taking to make the game safer for the kids on the team and improving player protection through proper tackling programs, specifically through using rugby-style tackling. They’ve also implemented activities to teach the kids about proper nutrition off the field and how to keep themselves in shape and doing the right things in the offseason to be ready for football when it rolls around in late summer.”
The 2018 Smarter Football awards marked the first year of the expanded “18 in 18” format that pays homage to Manning’s iconic jersey number. Manning’s personal contribution increased the number of equipment grants from 10 in 2017 to 18 in 2018 and, for the second consecutive year, he played a role in evaluating applicants and choosing the grant winners.
Other recipients of the 2018 Smarter Football grants are Apple Springs (Texas) High School; Brandywine High School of Wilmington, Delaware; Ecole Secondaries Franco Site in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario; Englewood High School of Jacksonville, Florida; Fayette (Missouri) High School; Finlandia University of Hancock, Michigan; Florence-Carlton High School Falcons, Florence, Montana; Florence Henry High School of Florence, South Dakota; Madras (Oregon) High School and Molokai High School of Ho’olehua, Hawaii.
Also, North Texas Youth Cowboys of Dallas; Poinciana High School of Kissimmee, Florida; Rogersville (Tennessee) Middle School; Scott’s Branch Middle School of Manning, South Carolina; Spring Valley High School of Columbia, South Carolina; U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education; and West Las Vegas High School of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Grant winners were notified in advance of the public announcement and Stearns was able to order equipment for use this season.
“It was delivered a couple of weeks ago, and the kids got to wear the new equipment in our first regular-season game,” Herring said. “The kids were absolutely thrilled when we handed it out.”
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