Citing an increased risk of injury in tackle football and a decline in enrollment, the recreation department of a Boston suburb is switching its youth football program to a flag football program for grades one through eight.
Somerville (Mass.) Recreation announced the change last week. The nine-week flag football program will begin in the summer of 2016 for four leagues in grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8.
“Particularly over the past few years, the rise in injuries among young people playing contact football, both in game situations and during regular practices, demonstrates a need for us to reevaluate the programs we offer to our youngest residents,” Jill Lathan, director of recreation and youth for the city of Somerville, said in a statement. “Somerville Recreation has a history of providing programs and opportunities for youth of all ages and interest levels, but we also have a commitment to keep our children safe while they have fun. Interest and participation in flag football is increasing both in Somerville and nationwide, and we are excited to be able to offer the program here in Somerville that will teach youth the necessary skills if they do choose to participate in contact football at an older age.”
The Somerville Youth Football program began in 2013. The Somerville Journal reported the league’s participation has declined by two-thirds, from 100 to about 35 this year. Lathan told the newspaper that parents had not pulled their children over concerns about concussions but the city was concerned about national trends in football injuries.
The treasurer of Somerville Pop Warner, the city’s other youth football program, told the Journal that its enrollment grew by 50 kids last year to 300 overall. Beverly Schwartz said she doubts fears over concussions played a role in the city’s decision to switch to flag football.
“I think it was face-saving,” Schwartz said. “They should never have created this program in the first place. It did not thrive. Do I think concussions had anything to do with the reason why Somerville Youth Football had a declining enrollment? No I do not, because Somerville Pop Warner has been growing.”
A group of parents are discussing the possibility of privately organizing Somerville’s American Youth Football League program. Lathan told the newspaper that that program would not be run by the recreation department but it would receive the same support and field times as other privately funded youth organizations in the city.
“Somerville Recreation’s equipment rental program continues to provide support and assistance to community athletics, including Pop Warner, youth soccer and youth softball, among others,” Lathan said in a statement. “While it is our understanding that a private group may opt to pick up and support a youth football program, at this time the city will not continue to fully fund a program, particularly with declining enrollment and an increasing risk of injury to the players.”