Making America’s most popular sport a better, safer game for West Boca’s youth
The issues of how safe football is and would you let your child play has made its way all the way up to the White House. Yet football remains the most popular sport in the country. Florida especially is known as a hot bed of youth football and many future NFL stars start their careers on the gridiron fields of our area. But not every youth football player is destined for the NFL. No parent wants to endanger their child unnecessarily. Is youth football a safe option?
The West Boca Dragons tackle football league has been providing the youth of West Boca a quality tackle football and cheerleading experience for over 8 years now. Part of Boca Flag Football and Cheerleading (BFFC), which has been serving the West Boca community for over 25 years.
With all of the discussion around football safety, the Dragons are determined to lead the way in terms of making youth football a better, safer game. Part of that commitment is being an active member of USA Football’s Heads-up football program. Dragons board member Alan Shimel is the league’s Player Safety Coach. He has just completed an intensive program and is once again certified as the league’s PSC, as he has been ever since USA Football launched the program.
“The NFL and USA Football have literally put millions of dollars into researching and promoting the best ways to make football better and safer. We are proud that our league has been one of the most vocal and early supporters of these efforts,” said Glenn Remler, VP and co-founder of the Dragons. “While other Boca Raton area football leagues pay lip service to supporting this important program, the Dragons have adopted the tenets of Heads up football as our own and integrated them into everything we do.”
The USA Heads up program has several areas through which they seek to make football safer:
1. Concussion awareness and prevention
2. Safe tackling techniques
3. Dehydration and heat exhaustion education – very important here in South Florida, this is the newest area of Heads up football.
4. Proper equipment fitting
5. Educating and certifying coaches, parents and players
USA Football is going to be adding to this agenda as more research is completed. But already the program is starting reap benefits. A survey commissioned by USA Football found:
Nearly 90 percent of youth players did not sustain an injury that resulted in missing a game or practice
Of the 22.4 percent of players who reported an injury, 70 percent returned to play the same day
Of the 11.9 percent of players who missed a game or practice because of injury, 60 percent returned to play within seven days.
Bruises were the most common injuries (34 percent) followed by ligament sprains (16 percent) 1.4 percent of players suffered a broken bone or fracture with 77 percent of these in the forearm, wrist or hand
More than 95 percent of players in the study did not sustain a concussion
No youth player age 7 or younger sustained a concussion at any time during the two-year study
No catastrophic head, neck or heat related injuries were reported among the more than 4000 players during the study’s two-year span
Injury rate and time loss rate goes up with age
– See more at: http://usafootball.com/blogs/heads-up-football/post/8767/our-football-story-should-i-let-our-son-play-tackle-football#sthash.5O67qYQ3.dpuf
“It’s hard to argue with these numbers,” said Dr. Salvatore Romano, President of both the Dragons and Boca Flag Football and Cheerleading. We thought that the techniques and teachings of the Heads up program would help reduce injury and the research is bearing that out. As a result we are stepping up our efforts to ensure that the West Boca Dragons are at the forefront of Heads up adoption.”
The league serves as a feeder program to the local High Schools in the area. By the younger players learning safe football techniques it will stay with them at the local High Schools who are also adopting the Heads up program.
In addition to PSC Shimel, all West Boca coaches (both head coaches and assistants) must take yearly Heads-up certification tests. There are multiple coach’s clinics and training sessions on safety held throughout the year. New this year is a parent’s safety clinic where parents will learn what they can do to make both football and cheerleading as safe as possible. The clinic which is open to all is scheduled for Monday, July 14th and 6:45 at South County Park recreation fields (across from the Water Park).
Dragon players are taught to tackle using the latest techniques to avoid injury. Any dangerous play such as leading with the crown of your helmet results in penalty and immediate suspension. Head injuries require a note from a neurologist before a player can return. Upon return just like in the NFL, the league utilizes a 5 step process which a player must pass each one before progressing. All of this in accordance with the best practices dictated by the Heads-up program.
“You have to remember that most of what we know about concussion and brain injury we have learned in the last 5 years”, said Shimel. This year’s course really had some great information that every football organization should be aware of. That is why I was pretty disappointed that with almost 100 coaches at the Heads up clinic in Miami representing over 50 different South Florida football programs, I did not see any of the other Boca area leagues there. They give lip service to child safety but don’t seem to want to go the extra mile that we are here in West Boca.
Besides Heads-up football the West Boca league stands out among other area football programs in its insistence on letting children of the same age play together, rather than rigid weight limits. This trend is actually fast growing in the rest of the country as the research proves out that boys of the same age but different weights really don’t cause any more injuries. This research was originally part of a Mayo Clinic study back in the late 1990’s. Since that time similar studies have confirmed the results, including the most recent USA Football study cited above.
“I have actually heard other leagues coaches boast that their scales are accurate to within a tenth of an ounce and if a young player is 1/10th of a pound over they are not allowed to play”, said Shimel. “Here in West Boca we think that is ridiculous. The idea is to get kids to play, every kids plays in our league.”
There are some filtered weight rules where children of a certain age over a certain weight cannot run with the ball, but otherwise kids of the same age play each other. A reason often give for this is that though a boy may be a few pounds heavier making him play with older children is forcing him to compete with players who are more mature and more coordinated. Younger children don’t interact with the older boys socially as well. For all of these reasons, the Dragons keep boys of the same age and grade together.
As a non-profit, volunteer driven and supported league, it not always easy to access and utilize the latest technology and research. But the Dragons organization has been committed to three things from day one:
1. Providing the safest possible environment for football and cheerleading
2. Creating a league where every child plays, regardless of their size, physical ability or financial situation
3. Being a dependable, upstanding member of the West Boca community
The league uses top quality equipment which is inspected and certified each year by Riddell. They use high school certified game officials at their games. All coaches are also back round checked and at least one coach per team is CPR and first aid certified. In addition to being a USA Football Heads up league, the Dragons are also part of the Orange Bowl Youth Football Alliance. The only member of the Orange Bowl in the Boca Raton area.
In addition to tackle football, the league has a vibrant cheerleading program with teams competing every year in the Orange Bowl tournament’s cheerleading competition.
The league plays their games at Veterans Park on Palmetto Park Rd, just east of State Rd 7, Sandalfoot Park on Lyons and at West Boca High School and Olympic Heights High School. Their season runs from September to November, with championships and Orange Bowl tournaments after that. Pre-season conditioning camp (free and open to all) starts July 7th at South County Park and continues every Monday and Wednesday at 6pm through mid-August. You can find out more at http://www.westbocadragons.com
West Boca News thanks the West Boca Dragons and Alan Shimel for providing this article.