Danecdotes: Football numbers down nationwide
The cancellation of the Pine River-Backus varsity football season was a disappointing situation for players, coaches, parents, fans and even your local sportswriter. As a huge football fan, I look forward to covering games once fall rolls around.
If you haven't heard, PR-B's varsity football team had 22 players signed up - half of whom are freshmen. So as not to have those freshmen face off against teams front-loaded with juniors and seniors, officials decided it was best to skip varsity games this season and let the athletes gain experience against athletes of roughly the same size and speed.
I have to commend the coaches and administration at PR-B for making what was, no doubt, a difficult decision. As unfortunate as it is, it was the right call to make. I know when I was a freshman, I was about three inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than I was as a senior, and I would have been absolutely demolished on a varsity field.
Perhaps a more unfortunate thing is that participation in high school and youth football is down in many places, not just in Pine River-Backus.
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READ: Pine River-Backus cancels varsity football season (Aug. 15, 2018)
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In fact, reports indicate the nationwide total of football participants may have decreased more than 7 percent over the past seven or so years - despite the fact that participation in organized team sports overall actually increased over that same period.
I'm sure there are a number of factors leading to fewer kids playing football, not the least of which is a concern over concussions and other head injuries.
Obviously, I'm not a neurologist or otherwise medically trained individual. I have not studied the brain in any capacity - although I'm sure it was touched on in biology courses I attended - and I have little interest in anatomy.
Heck, I haven't even see the movie "Concussion."
However, there is more than enough scholarly evidence to suggest football can lead to an increased risk more so than other sports.
This discussion is something most parents must face. My son is just 3 months old, and my wife already says she would rather he doesn't play football. I would be just fine with him running cross country, but I also would be OK with him making his own decision in this regard.
Another factor leading to fewer kids playing football is that kids seem to be "specializing" in a single sport far earlier than I personally think they should.
This seems to be more common in larger schools, but around these parts you will still see youth athletes committing to playing hockey or basketball year-round instead of dipping their toes into a few different sports.
I am all for high school-age athletes picking a sport and directing all of their focus on that, but I firmly believe if a kid is under the age of 14, he or she should at least still try a few different activities before landing on the one they prefer. That's just my 2 cents.
Back to football, steps are being taken at the professional and top-tier college levels to make the game safer, both through rule changes and top-of-the-line equipment. But those often take a while to reach the high school - and certainly youth - level, perhaps due to a resistance to change, as well as the fact that high-end equipment is often out of a school district's price range.
It appears the participation numbers in the lower levels of PR-B are good and varsity play can resume in the near future. On a national scale, however, something may need to change eventually.