SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - As the number of lawsuits over football-related concussions continues to grow, the nation’s largest youth football organization is trying to prevent such injuries.
This week, Pop Warner, which has more than 6,000 players in Central Florida, announced it is adding new rules designed to cut down on the number of head injuries. The decision was made after more than 80 concussion-related lawsuits were filed by NFL players.
The new rules will limit the number of contact drills and full-speed drills a team can conduct and will reduce the length of time for scrimmages.
Lake Brantley High School quarterback Damon Haecker, one of the top QBs in Central Florida, got his start playing Pop Warner. Now, his 5-year-old brother, Aidan, is ready to suit up for the first time this season.
“I think it will help,’’ Haecker said of the rules. “Developing him and teaching him how to tackle better and not head-to-head contact.’’
And tackling is what Pop Warner and other youth football organizations are worried about.
WFTV anchor Greg Warmoth talked to parents about the new rules. They told him they are concerned that coaches may not follow them.
“There's not going to be any monitors out there monitoring this rule, so clearly, it’s going to come down to the coaches making sure they treat every kid like they're their own kid,’’ said Mark Haecker, Damon and Aidan’s father, himself a football coach.
Julie Keating, whose daughter suffered a concussion while playing soccer, hopes the coaches, teams and leagues follow through. Her 13-year-old son Jack plays in the Central Florida Youth Football League, which is adopting the same rules that Pop Warner is instituting.
“It's very serious, and it did happen at practice, and it can affect them for a very long time,’’ said Julie Keating.
A local doctor told Warmoth that limiting hitting in practice is a good thing, because it's really the cumulative effect of multiple hits that causes long-term damage, especially when players start at an early age.
Officials at Pop Warner’s national office in Langhorne, Pa., said they have no statistics on concussions but acknowledged they are concerned. They said that if a coach breaks the rules, that coach could be put on probation or even face a lifetime ban on coaching.