Fear of injuries hampers youth footballPublished 9:36am Wednesday, October 16, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE — Fears of concussions and other serious injuries are contributing to declining participation in Minnesota’s youth football programs, reflecting a national trend.
Programs are seeing declines anywhere from a fifth to as much as a third over the last five years.
In Eden Prairie, where the high school has won two straight state championships, some coaches worry they won’t have as deep a pool of players to choose from in the future.
The Eden Prairie Youth Football Association, for example, has seen a nearly 34 percent decline in participation in its third- to eighth-grade league since 2008. In 2008, it had 803 players. This season, only 532 enrolled.
Jay Hansen, an eighth-grade coach and president of the association, said the most alarming drop is in younger grades.
“We used to capture a big percentage of the third graders coming in and you know that’s declining,” he said.
Other programs have seen similar drops. Since 2008, participation in Anoka-Ramsey’s K-8 program has fallen 26 percent. Both the St. Croix Valley Athletic Association and Stillwater’s middle school programs have declined by 24 percent.
Coaches, parents and players cite increasing safety concerns. They also say football can be expensive, and with so many other sports to choose from, some boys choose to specialize in a single sport.
After years on a St. Anthony youth team, sixth-grader Charlie Ash chose to hang up his cleats for good this season. The 11-year-old and his parents, David and Stephanie Ash, agreed it was best for him to quit, largely due to their concerns about serious head injuries.
“Best case, they play football and they have a pretty good time,” David Ash said. “Worst case is they’re permanently brain damaged.”
Logan Hauser, of Farmington, played football from age 6 until his senior year at Saint Thomas Academy.
“We’ve had a lot of great memories in this backyard just throwing the ball around,” his dad, Craig Hauser, said.
But many of those memories are fuzzy for 17-year-old Logan. While attending football camp two summers ago, Hauser took a knee to his head, which caused a concussion that forced him to quit football for good.
“It’s kind of scary knowing how easily that can all go away.” Logan said, noting how teenagers typically think they’re invincible. “You can get away with everything and that was really all taken away from me.”