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Schwab: Tackling frequency in prep football under scrutiny

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 5:36 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

High school football coaches contend they’ve already received the message loud and clear when it comes to player safety.

A state legislator thinks it should become law to make sure that is the case.

State Rep. Carol Sente, D-Lincolnshire, is introducing a bill designed to protect high school football players from head and brain trauma by limiting tackling to one practice a week.

According to an article on CBS Chicago’s website, Sente is open to feedback when it comes to how the bill ultimately takes shape on matters ranging from how equipment such as dummies and sleds factor in, the way tackling would be policed during the offseason and other specifics that will need to be ironed out. She reportedly has scheduled a town hall meeting about her proposal for Feb. 25 at Vernon Hills High School.

Many football coaches have raised questions about the proposal’s merits, as well as how it would be implemented.

Burlington Central coach Rich Crabel said his team only hits in-season during Tuesday and Wednesday practices, and typically only tackles players to the ground during Wednesday’s defense-intensive practices.

In that sense, Crabel does not fear Sente’s proposal would be a major jolt to his program, but he also dismissed the notion that limiting players from being driven to the turf is the be-all, end-all when it comes to staving off head injuries.

“Just because you don’t take somebody to the ground doesn’t eliminate the things they’re talking about,” Crabel said. “Just because they didn’t take someone to the ground, they don’t get a concussion? I mean, when your offensive linemen and defensive linemen hit heads, nobody is being taken to the ground.”

In 2011, the state of Illinois passed regulations requiring players receive medical clearance to return from concussions, but doctors have noted that the cumulative effect of blows to the head from football pose a long-term risk that do not always trace back to concussions.

Aurora Central Catholic football coach Brian Casey noted that for smaller schools such as ACC, underclassmen often play in games at the freshman and sophomore levels, adding a potential complication to viewing the bill through the prism of allowing players to tackle in one practice and one game a week.

“I know there are a lot of programs, especially our size, who right now sophomores and freshmen play both the sophomore game and the freshman game that week, so before anyone can make a rational decision or statement about that, some of that stuff has to be cleaned up,” Casey said. “We’re not all the 7A and 8A schools where everyone plays only one game, because those kids alone are going to be getting two days of contact.”

Casey has other reservations about the proposal, too.

He acknowledged that when he played high school football at Montini before injury concerns were so pervasive, the first day of practice in pads each year was “nothing but a two hour Royal Rumble.”

But Casey said coaches these days already are taking common sense steps to avoid violent hits in practice.

He said some of the Chargers’ partnered-up, form tackling drills involve bumping and jostling, and he considers the drills crucial to players learning to tackle properly.

“If that’s now illegal, hey, that’s a problem, because we’re teaching the safe way to tackle with as little risk as possible as far as injuries, and if you don’t do something like that, there’s a greater risk on Friday night, and I mean a significantly greater risk on Friday night,” Casey said.

Casey said he would support increased certification demands on coaches to teach correct tackling form but thinks legislating how often tackling is taught would be counterproductive.

“You don’t get practice driving a car or getting a license just by reading ‘Rules of the Road,’ boom,” Casey said. “You have driver’s ed, you have behind the wheel class because you have to learn how to do it. It’s a similar analogy with tackling. You don’t just get better by watching a coach demonstrate it.”

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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