Head Injury Risk In Youth Football

I was walking past the television set the other day, perhaps it was The Dr. Oz Show, and I heard someone suggest that kids shouldn’t be playing tackle football before the age of 14. The reason given: risk of head injuries or concussions during important developmental times.

Then, I received a survey from a group that is promoting flag football leagues around the country (and thereby dissing youth tackle leagues) by stating that an overwhelming majority of dads still thinks it’s more important for their sons who played football to be “tough and hard” than it was to worry about possible concussions. The survey suggested that concussion awareness was “overhyped.”

Not so, says Wayne Cazimero, president of the Kailua Mustangs. “There’s been a lot of changes to the (Pop Warner) rules lately, and along with safer helmets, it’s making it much safer now for the kids,” he says.

Cazimero’s own son, Charleston, played up through the different levels of Pop Warner’s tackle leagues (the association goes from Tiny Mites as young as 5 years old up to Midgets by age 14). Charleston now plays nose tackle for Damien. “He’s suffered a few injuries, but never a concussion,” Cazimero says.

Cazimero doesn’t think it would be fair to legislate against tackle football at an early age. His youth football program is as popular as ever.

“I don’t think it would be fair. There’s been no drop off (even with) all the talk about concussions. We’ve got six divisions and over 150 kids playing football this season,” he says.

Cazimero cited the upcoming Concussion Awareness Clinic at King Intermediate as a step in the right direction.

“Our coaches go to these clinics and they are educating themselves. They’re coaching their kids now to lead with their shoulders and not with their heads,” he says.

Ross Oshiro, the coor dinator of athletic trainers for the DOE, says the clinics have been a tremendous success.

“We had over 100 people at the UH clinic (this past summer). There’s a debate going on now about playing tackle football before high school, (but) it’s a parental choice,” he says. “Parents have to remember to help their children improve their physical strength as much as improve their skills. Developing a solid core, strengthening the shoulder and neck muscles, and using the proper techniques (to tackle and absorb tackles) really help.”

“Knock on wood, we haven’t had anybody hurt that way this year,” Cazimero says. “We’ve got more safety awareness in place now than ever before.”

He encourages parents, coaches and others to attend the Concussion Awareness Clinic Oct. 18. It starts at 6 p.m. at King Intermediate in Kaneohe, and admission is free.