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Be Well: Concussions and football's popularity

St. Ignatius HIgh School football team.
St. Ignatius HIgh School football team.

Football is losing ground. While still the most popular high school sport in the U.S., its numbers are shrinking.

The latest survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations counted 1,088,158 players on 11-member teams nationwide. That's down 2 percent since the 2009-2010 school year.

In Ohio, where there were 46,000 players last year, according to the survey, participation has dropped at a faster rate: Down 17 percent in the past four years.

Why is football so much less popular lately in Ohio, and so much less than elsewhere?

No one really knows for sure. Bob Colgate, a spokesman with the national associations of high schools, said declining populations in many of the smaller rural towns that once were the backbone of football is a big factor. Also, kids have trouble playing more than one sport during the school year because each sport is so intense now. Another factor could be the switch to pay-to-play in some school districts. Lots of parents don't have the $500 or so it costs to for their kids to play in the sport.

But a fear of concussions is a factor, he confirmed.

Coach Chuck Kyle who's the long-time head coach at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland for more than 30 years is a master trainer for USA Football, which is the national youth program sponsored by NFL. He says that although St. Ignatius has no shortage of players, the fear of concussions is affecting other teams in Northeast Ohio just as it is in much of the country.

"I think what has to happen is better education of what concussions are and better teaching of the techniques. No longer can a volunteer coach who played who played 20 years ago hope out of his car, walk up to a youth group and says hey I'll help out. I played football in high school. No, that can't happen anymore, that can't. Way too much has taken place since those people played. They need to be trained and re-informed and instructed on the technique," Kyle says.

How are they supposed to tackle?

Coach Kyle says players should lead with their shoulder going up at a 45 degree angle for impact into that other player. And while doing that, the head slides out of the way. USA Football, the NFL youth program, calls it "Heads Up" Football. The movement includes training camps across the country and is in direct response to safety concerns. You might recall, Ohio like most states across the nation has passed a concussion law. The state now requires that parents sign a concussion information form, coaches have to get special training and students have to be removed from play if a concussion is suspected.

Now, what's key is that the student can't return to play until medical clearance is given. I asked Coach Kyle if Ignatius has had concussions this year.

"A few, because those do happen. Not as many as years ago. Now, years ago a kid would be right back in school. Say if the game is on Saturday oh he'd be in school on Monday, and doing his homework and he'd be on his cell phone and you know - NO - you gotta shut down for a few days. You shouldn't be on the phone, you shouldn't be doing your homework. You should just be resting and schools should have a concussion protocol," Kyle says.

The Coach also said something else that is pretty important. He pointed out that football is getting all the attention but other sports like soccer and basketball also have fairly high rates of concussions.

Dr. Mary Vargo, director of MetroHealth Concussion Clinic, explains what parents, players and coaches need to watch for and why they should worry about concussions.