How soon is too soon to tackle?

Sep 19, 2017 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Our country is having a national discussion on the appropriate age for boys to begin playing tackle football.

In the 1970s, local fourth- through sixth-graders were introduced to football with a single week of flag football practice organized by interested teachers (longtime Wolverine football stat keepers Randy Arnold and Chuck Peart were our coaches). The week of learning how to huddle and call plays guided us to the "big game" in Tonkin Stadium against a team from the same grade from another elementary school.

We remember the Ashgrove vs. Lincoln rivalry.

My recollection was that, for our class, the one-week season seemed like enough. Our big reward was getting to play our flag football game on the same field where the Wolverines played.

Then the Riverton Junior Football League was organized, and tackle football for fifth- and sixth-graders came to town. Later, flag football was introduced to third- and fourth-graders, but today, kids from that age group play tackle football as well.

By all accounts, the RJFL, created by John Hursh and friends and more recently led by Brett Watson and a host of volunteers, has been a hugely successful youth sports league. It's a family- oriented, fun league and has been a positive influence for many young people, including my own two boys, who participated in the RJFL every year they could.

But a conversation is happening that wasn't present when the RJFL was conceived 36 years ago.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced plans for a, "rigorous evaluation of the risks of tackling in youth football," and called upon on experts to submit research proposals to identify what age groups are at most risk of sustaining head injuries.

As the nation's health protection agency, the CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish its mission, the CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats and responds when these arise.

We are being made aware, more and more every day, of the science that has revealed the potential long-term dangers of concussions and repetitive head trauma which can be experienced when playing tackle football (and other sports too).

Within a few years, maybe sooner, the CDC will complete its research and will releases its findings on when is the appropriate age for kids to put on the pads and start to play tackle football.

The CDC may conclude that playing tackle football in third grade is fine. Or that fifth grade is the appropriate age to begin playing the sport. Or, the CDC could say, high school is when young brains are developed enough for kids to first participate in tackle football.

Whatever their conclusions, will we listen?

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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