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September 22, 2017

8/30/2017 1:29:00 PM
The dilemma facing high school football
J. Patrick Reilly

While much of the talk when the leaves start turning and cooler temps prevail turns to the Badger or Packers football teams, in high school programs around the country there is not so much to talk about.
Or maybe there is.
Football on the high school level is declining in participation numbers at an alarming rate. While many schools had three teams practicing and playing - varsity, reserves and freshmen or jv reserves - many are now down to two teams or in several cases just one.
That does not speak well for the future of high school football.
No doubt one of the reasons for the slide in participation is the fear of concussions. Former NFL players have suffered from the affects of concussions and have been open about it publically. Concussions are nothing to take lightly and some promising players in our area have been told from medical professionals they cannot withstand another concussion and expect to live a normal life so they quit the sport.
The fear of concussions has made many parents hold their children out of football or gotten them involved in another sport or activity.
Another reason, at least in Wisconsin, is the early start date. Practices start in early August, usually close to the 1st, and at least three games take place before school starts. Some athletes choose to work right up to the last minute until the start of school to make money for the ever escalating cost of college or to earn money to contribute to the family. Many students are driving to school (if you don't believe this drive past the high school parking lot) and must pay for their own gas and insurance.
A third reason students do not participate in football is difficulty. Football is a rewarding yet demanding sport to play and some students do not want to put in the work.
What is the answer?
An initiative to improve equipment and instruction to minimize concussions would help.
A later start of the season would be in order too.
The successful football programs have fewer players going both ways and have separate special teams as much as possible. That takes close to 33 different players taking part in a varsity or sub-varsity game.
That affects the programs with only 35 or so out and while there is extensive conditioning for football or any sport, fatigue often leads to injury.
This is an issue that needs discussion at various levels in Wisconsin - WIAA, WFCA, high schools, youth programs, parents, athletes, etc. If discussion does not take place and a solution is not found, the future of participation in football may be dim.

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