Football concussion fallout extends to youth programs

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 11:32 PM

Local administrators are worried that the headlines surrounding the NFL over lawsuits, debilitating head injuries and even suicides are making parents reluctant to sign up their sons for football.

hide

A youngster tried a new helmet on for size at the Woodbury youth football signup. The latest in equipment can appease some nervous parents.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

John Griffin held the shiny dark blue helmet high into the air so that all the parents sitting in the bleachers could see. "We're giving them the very best helmet," Griffin said, squinting into the evening sun. "Can you get hurt? Sure."

With that, the tryouts began. Scores of young boys did push-ups and ran sprints, and another year of youth football in Woodbury had begun. "Dude, after this season, you're going to see my helmet all cracked up," said one boy, inspecting his new helmet.

But this is an uneasy summer in Minnesota, and elsewhere. Football concussions are now a major story line, even in youth leagues, and administrators like Griffin are worried that the headlines surrounding the NFL over lawsuits, debilitating head injuries and even suicides are making parents reluctant to sign up their sons for football.

The ripples have been felt in communities such as Eagan, Osseo-Maple Grove and even Eden Prairie, where youth football was expecting another spike upward after the high school last year won its seventh state championship since 1996. Instead Jay Hansen, the youth football president, estimates a 20 percent drop in signups for the 800-player association -- and believes that parents scared off by concussion worries are playing a part. That has come despite the association replacing 650 helmets two years ago and now having emergency medical technicians on the sidelines at games.

"We didn't anticipate the concussion hype," said Hansen, who said he believes the concerns, while legitimate, are "overblown." Even more worrisome, he added, is that the program's entry-level teams -- focused on third-graders, and meant to give players and parents a first taste of the sport -- have had some of the largest drop-offs.

Even if other factors are in play, administrators agree the concussion concerns are not helping. In Eagan, the $80,000-a-year youth football program had 523 participants in 2010, 497 players a year ago and will have 450 players this fall. "[In] third grade, we're seeing it the most," Ken LaChance, the president of the Eagan Athletic Association, said of the falling participation.

The statistics are similar nationally. Overall football participation for all age groups decreased from 10.1 million in 2006 to 9 million in 2011, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

The number of high school boys playing 11-man football decreased slightly in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 after 16 consecutive years of growth, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Widespread concern

After finishing a talk to youth football parents in Woodbury on the sports injury services offered by Summit Orthopedics, Karie Ayers switched to what was going on in her home. Her 11-year-old son, Peyton -- named after NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning -- is not playing football this year after having a concussion a year ago. "Hard hit, helmet hit the ground. He definitely was not himself for a couple of weeks," said Ayers, who said the mild concussion produced "lots of headaches."

"He says that he's not afraid [to play], but there's a piece of me that wonders," added Ayers, referral and outreach specialist at Summit.

This year's youth football signups in Woodbury took on an almost carnival atmosphere, with officials from the Riddell football helmet maker, Summit Orthopedics and Minnesota Orthodontics offering parents everything from free mouthpieces to directions to a new clinic for bone and joint injury care. The mouthpiece, explained Gwen Veldhuis of Minnesota Orthodontics, "cushions the blow. You still might get a concussion, but it'll be more slight."

Standing next to a small table, Tom Menke tried to interest parents in a padded cover that fits over a helmet and costs $69.95. He had three helmets on the table, one with a silver-padded cover, another with a red one and a third with a black cover. "I sold my red one," he said as the evening ended.

"It's not the be-all and end-all," said Menke, who is a linebacker coach at Prior Lake High School. "It's a matter of prioritizing safety, and that's the kind of pitch that we give out."

Dr. Angela Voigt of Summit Orthopedics stood to the side and was asked whether she would let a son of hers play football. "If they wanted to play football, I would say it's OK," she said. "Yeah, football is riskier. I'd rather have them play football than rugby -- there are worse sports."

It's not the NFL

Griffin said that Woodbury's youth football signups, despite the concussion fears, were holding roughly steady after a late surge in registrations, with 275 players this year in tackle football and 135 in flag football. "Tackle is down maybe a half a team to maybe a team per grade," he said. "It wasn't overly exciting two to three weeks ago when we were at ridiculously low numbers."

As parents gathered in the Woodbury High School bleachers, Griffin tried to distance his program from the NFL.

"What you're talking about in the NFL, here's a guy making $3 million a year in his paycheck, and he's launching himself like a human missile at people," he said. "We're [just] a developmental football league."

Griffin was joined by Andy Hill, Woodbury's high school football coach, who is also interested in keeping youth football registrations from falling and tried to interest the parents in a series of local football camps. "Give Coach Griff a big hand," he said. "It takes a lot of fortitude to step up and say that we're going to spend $20,000 on improving our helmets." The crowd clapped loudly, and some parents whistled their approval.

Afterward, there were smiles -- and lingering concerns.

"I worry about it quite a bit," said Dave Washenberger, who signed up Blake, age 9, for a second year of youth football. "My wife's really worried about it." The night before the signup, even Blake, recalling some of the hits he took last year, said that "I don't know if I want to do it," his dad reported.

Leaning against a chain-link fence, Kate Malec looked for her oldest son, Sam, 9, who was making his way through nine evaluation stations, including one for a vertical jump and another for a 20-yard dash. "He wanted to play for a long time," she said. "I did not want him to play."

Malec said she consulted a friend who was a youth football coach. "[I asked], 'Isn't he too small to play? Just tell me. Give it to me straight,'" she said. "He's tiny."

Ryan Pacyga coached a third-grader in Woodbury last year who had a concussion during practice that left the player nauseated but not vomiting. The player sat out two weeks and is registered to play again this year. "We never want to ruin a 9-year-old," he said.

"I'm not in favor of blowing this up into such an issue where we all have to be afraid to have contact [in practice]. I think that some people kind of want to take it to that level," Pacyga said. "Let's get real about it."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

  • related content

  • Chart: Making football helmets safer?

    Saturday August 4, 2012

    Many youth football associations are investing in new helmets, believing new technology will help prevent serious head injuries. One of the new helmets being used in Woodbury is the Revolution...

  • Youth football programs: Reasons for concern

    Saturday August 4, 2012

    Had 400 playing youth football, grades second through eighth, last year; down to 325 this year. President Brian Williams said NFL concussion worries have "certainly not helped our situation."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 12:00 PM
New York
Portland 6:00 PM
New Orleans
Utah 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Atlanta 7:00 PM
Houston
San Antonio 7:30 PM
Dallas
Indiana 8:00 PM
Denver
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 3:00 PM
Los Angeles
Colorado 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Montreal
Washington 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Florida 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Carolina
Chicago 6:00 PM
Columbus
Nashville 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Calgary 9:00 PM
Vancouver
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
VA Commonwealth 34 2nd Half
Cincinnati 21
Charlotte 29 1st Half 0:40
Georgetown 38
SMU 30 2nd Half
Michigan 27
Louisville 28 1st Half 0:43
Western Ky 22
Mount St Marys 12:00 PM
American Univ
Abilene Christian 12:00 PM
Boise State
UMass Lowell 12:00 PM
Duquesne
South Alabama 12:00 PM
IUPUI
Ohio State 12:00 PM
North Carolina
Massachusetts 12:00 PM
Providence
Syracuse 12:00 PM
Villanova
Citadel 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Belmont 12:30 PM
Fairfield
St Bonaventure 1:00 PM
Binghamton
Montreat 1:00 PM
Campbell
Delaware 1:00 PM
Fair-Dickinson
South Florida 1:00 PM
Florida State
Vanderbilt 1:00 PM
Georgia Tech
SC State 1:00 PM
Houston
Missouri 1:00 PM
Illinois
Truett-McConnell 1:00 PM
Jacksonville
Toledo 1:00 PM
McNeese State
Elon 1:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Drexel 1:00 PM
Penn State
St Francis-PA 1:00 PM
Rutgers
Albany 1:00 PM
Yale
PSU-Beaver 1:00 PM
Longwood
Eastern Ill 1:05 PM
Indiana State
Indiana 1:30 PM
Butler
Marshall 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
Lafayette 2:00 PM
Kansas
Oral Roberts 2:00 PM
Memphis
Western Mich 2:00 PM
Northwestern
Delaware State 2:00 PM
Oregon
Fla Atlantic 2:00 PM
St Francis-NY
Arkansas Tech 2:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Howard Payne 2:00 PM
Texas-Arlington
UMBC 2:00 PM
Kennesaw St
St Josephs (IN) 2:05 PM
Chicago State
Eastern Mich 2:05 PM
Missouri State
UCLA 2:30 PM
Kentucky
UC Davis 3:00 PM
Air Force
Houston Baptist 3:00 PM
UC Riverside
Davidson 3:00 PM
Coll of Charleston
USC Upstate 3:00 PM
Miss State
NC Central 3:00 PM
Miss Valley St
Illinois State 3:00 PM
Murray State
Louisiana 3:00 PM
Northwestern St
Oakland 3:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 3:00 PM
Rhode Island
Presbyterian 3:00 PM
UT Martin
Monmouth 3:00 PM
Wagner
Southern U 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Iowa State 4:00 PM
Drake
Wake Forest 4:00 PM
Florida
High Point 4:00 PM
James Madison
Texas Southern 4:00 PM
Michigan State
New Hampshire 4:00 PM
Sacred Heart
Northeastern 4:00 PM
Santa Clara
Huston-Tillotson 4:00 PM
Texas State
Purdue 4:15 PM
Notre Dame
Prairie View 4:30 PM
Sam Houston St
Xavier 5:00 PM
Auburn
Bluffton 6:00 PM
Akron
NJIT 6:00 PM
Central Conn St
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Columbia
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Dayton
Iona 6:00 PM
George Mason
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Morgan State 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Saint Josephs 6:00 PM
Marist
East Carolina 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Richmond 6:00 PM
Pepperdine
La Salle 6:00 PM
Towson
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
UMKC
CS-Bakersfield 6:30 PM
Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Long Beach State 7:00 PM
Texas
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
TCU
SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
Arkansas
Lehigh 8:00 PM
Arizona State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Washington
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Weber State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
St Edwards 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Pacific
Montana State 9:00 PM
Portland
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
BYU
Utah 10:30 PM
UNLV
Nevada 3 3rd Qtr 9:49
Louisiana 10
Utah State 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Livingstone 34 1st Half 0:50
UNC Greensboro 40
Loyola-Chicago 32 2nd Half
Dartmouth 27
Georgia Tech 27 2nd Half
St Francis-NY 25
Auburn 22 2nd Half
St Johns 32
East Tenn St 26 2nd Half
Jacksonville St 20
Western Mich 35 2nd Half
Detroit 26
Cal-Irvine 25 2nd Half
Wright State 41
Gardner-Webb 23 2nd Half
Kennesaw St 23
(7) Stanford 12:00 PM
(11) Tennessee
Alabama A&M 12:00 PM
Ole Miss
Central Michigan 12:00 PM
(1) South Carolina
Nebraska Omaha 12:00 PM
Creighton
FIU 12:00 PM
Western Carolina
Houston 12:00 PM
Nicholls
St Thomas Aquinas 12:00 PM
Army
St Bonaventure 12:00 PM
Niagara
Texas State 12:00 PM
Stetson
George Mason 12:05 PM
ULM
Grambling 1:00 PM
Kansas State
Missouri 1:00 PM
Wake Forest
Robert Morris 1:00 PM
Cornell
Air Force 1:00 PM
Abilene Christian
Hampton 1:00 PM
James Madison
American Univ 1:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Texas Southern 1:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
Tenn Tech 1:00 PM
NC A&T
Presbyterian 1:00 PM
NC Central
Penn 1:00 PM
Drexel
Lipscomb 1:00 PM
Xavier
Vermont 1:00 PM
Green Bay
Charleston Southern 1:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Ohio Christian 1:00 PM
Akron
Jacksonville 1:00 PM
Murray State
(17) Rutgers 1:00 PM
Iona
Indiana 1:00 PM
Oakland
Indiana State 1:30 PM
SMU
Denver 1:30 PM
Purdue
TX-San Antonio 2:00 PM
Texas Tech
UCF 2:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Campbell 2:00 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Florida A&M 2:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Northwestern St 2:00 PM
Jackson State
Lehigh 2:00 PM
Arizona State
Valparaiso 2:00 PM
SIU-Edwardsville
Toledo 2:00 PM
Southern Ill
Liberty 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Wofford 2:30 PM
North Florida
Montana State 3:00 PM
Washington St
Marshall 3:00 PM
(22) West Virginia
Morgan State 3:00 PM
Chattanooga
Northeastern 3:00 PM
Harvard
Furman 3:00 PM
(15) Georgia
(18) Michigan State 3:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Ohio U 3:00 PM
Massachusetts
Prairie View 3:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
High Point 3:00 PM
(12) Nebraska
Winthrop 3:05 PM
Wichita State
William Jewell 3:30 PM
UMKC
Louisiana Tech 4:00 PM
Utah
Southern Utah 4:00 PM
Gonzaga
Hawaii 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
San Jose St 4:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Northridge 4:00 PM
San Diego State
Norfolk State 4:00 PM
East Carolina
Saint Peters 4:00 PM
Loyola-Maryland
Arizona 4:30 PM
Stephen F Austin
Northwestern 4:30 PM
Eastern Illinois
Oral Roberts 5:00 PM
Wisconsin
Florida Atlantic 5:00 PM
New Mexico St
La Salle 5:00 PM
Georgia State
(16) Oregon State 5:30 PM
Nevada
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Villanova
Delaware 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Utah Valley U
Washington 7:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Montana
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
Idaho
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Illinois-Chicago

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will Christian Ponder ever be a full-time starter in the NFL?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close