Equal Time: Organized youth football is a safe sport

A recent column by Troy Gustavson declared that the three million American youngsters who play youth tackle football should be denied the enjoyment of doing so because “it’s just too early”.
The author’s 9-year-old grandson recently incurred a concussion in a football game when the back of his helmet hit the ground. We empathize with Troy and Tyler’s fine parents. Who among us haven’t seen our children endure an injury? It’s not pleasant and sometimes can be heartbreaking, but unless you live in a bubble, it does happen.
While we are unhappy that there are any injuries at all in youth football, it is unfair of Troy to use his column to cast us in an unfavorable light. We did not read Troy voice concerns about other sports in which young players also sustain injuries. Sadly, when children are playing and running around they are susceptible many unpredictable injuries. As parents and coaches we cringe at the thought of any of them, but demonizing football as an “unacceptable risk” is nonsensical.
Auto accidents are the No. 1 killer of kids aged 5-14. Are we irresponsible parents if we help our children into the family SUV? Of course not. We employ car seats or booster seats and we drive safely.
It takes only a short time to research a host of highly qualified doctors who endorse youth football as a safe and healthy activity for our kids. One  statement we found enlightening came from Dr. John L. Lehtinen, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Family Medicine and a sports medicine physician for more than 30 years.
He said, “Football is as safe as any other sport … I certainly would not discourage playing football because of a fear of injury occurring. As long as there is quality coaching and equipment is properly fitted, that will help minimize injuries as well. So, ‘go for it,’ is my bottom line.”  
The Peconic Panthers organization has been providing children a safe environment in which to play football for 25 years and we play under the Suffolk County PAL Football program. We are very proud of the level of safety measures and education offered by our programs to protect our players from injury. All coaches are required to take online courses offered by USA Football, the sport’s national governing body on youth and amateur levels. One of the main areas studied this year was concussion awareness and the proper fitting of helmets and gear to prevent such injuries.
There is no other youth sport which has such a high level of injury awareness than that of youth football. While the studies are still conflicting, there are statistics that prove there are more concussions and/or injuries in soccer, volleyball and basketball than there are in football.
With Suffolk County PAL we stand by our safety requirements for keeping a low level of injuries for such a physical sport. This is due to our weight requirements, team alignments and equipment requirements. We do not equip our children because of possible injury; we equip our children to prevent injury in the first place.
Football is like no other sport. The team atmosphere gives our young players a spirit of family, teamwork, self confidence and good sportsmanship like no other game. The aspect of the game is such that there is a place for children of all levels of athleticism, not just the fast kids with the good arm and moxie. We take some of these children who can’t play well in the other sports and give them a place where they can perform on a level that is comfortable for them so they can contribute to a team, win or lose.
We share Troy’s concern for all young kids who suffer injury whether it is in outdoor sports, the back yard trampoline or at home on the cellar stairs. But we do not share the opinion that we should save the “head banging” for teenagers because kids of every age need all of our precautions to play safe.
Go Panthers!

This article was written by Michael Dolan and Mark Mellas. Mr. Dolan is president of the Peconic Panthers and Mr. Mellas serves as general manager.

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