Independent youth football clubs are rushing in to fill the void left by the Marshall, Texas, junior high tackle football team after it shut down in 2014. The move to close the seventh-grade team was advocated by Marshall high school football coach Clint Harper, who claimed that poor teaching in youth football made players more susceptible to injury. The Pop Warner and Boys & Girls Club youth football programs have also been discontinued in Marshall, citing as the main reasons safety concerns, liability and a lack of participation.
Bryan Partee, director of the local Boys & Girls Club, wanted to make it clear that “we’re not on a crusade—we’re on the side of safety. The contact stuff is just outside our youth development strategy.” And Marshall is not the only place where youth contact sports have taken a hit. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, participation in tackle football for boys between the ages of six and twelve has dropped almost twenty percent since 2009, and schools in Maine, Missouri and New Jersey have all moved to close their tackle football programs.
Matt Moore of Marshall told the Longview News-Journal he’s relieved that his ten-year-old son is not pushing to play tackle football. “Now that we know about the dangers,” he says, “you can no longer claim ignorance.” However, there is no lack of parents who disagree, many of whom believe that football is a much needed outlet for young boys, that it teaches discipline and that the coaches are in an ideal position to be a good role model.
Many of these parents also hold the belief that better coaching will significantly lower the risks. Chad Hygh, whose nine-year-old son plays on the new Conquering Lions youth tackle football team, told the News-Journal, “It can be a barbaric sport, but these coaches teach them the proper technique. Some of the steps they are taking to make it safer are good. There was a lot more hitting in my day.”
The “steps” Hygh is referring to come from a safety course called Heads Up Football, taught by the nonprofit organization USA Football, which focuses on training coaches how to teach safer tackling techniques. Many of the coaches serving the Conquering Lions and its rival organization the Marshall Longhorns put great stock in the effectiveness of the training. Both organizations were founded last year by former coaches from the Pop Warner and Boys & Girls Club who were reluctant to see the community lose what it sees as a valuable opportunity for the youth. The Longhorns and the Lions have each filled four teams with boys between the ages of five and twelve, roughly 200 participants in all.