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As high school football players and other fans across Illinois get set to watch the Super Bowl, one suburban lawmaker is working with the Illinois High School Association to ban full-speed tackling during summer practices.
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman is drafting a proposal with state Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, that would reduce contact in practice during the weeks leading up to the regular high school season.
Hickman said the proposal would eliminate live contact in the summer and require coaches to teach safe tackling techniques.
He said some contact would still be allowed, but the proposal would eliminate "full-contact and tackles to the ground" over the summer.
The specifics of the proposal have not been finalized, Hickman said, and it will be up to the IHSA board to discuss when it meets Feb. 19.
The debate over tackling in football leading to injuries that can cause long-term brain damage has reached the highest level of the sport and will likely be talked about as the NFL's biggest game is set to be played Feb. 2.
Meanwhile, Sente plans to try for a second time to pass legislation to regulate high school sports.
Last year her proposal to limit tackling at football practices to twice a week during the season was denied by lawmakers.
This year, Sente wants the IHSA to create an online certification system that she said would teach coaches and players of all high school sports to reduce dangerous hits.
"In terms of the training, we need to do enough that proper technique is being taught, whatever sport it is," Sente said. "We just want to make sure we are not overusing full-contact."
Research has shown that football players might sustain up to 5,000 hits to the head in games and practices by the time they are 18 years old.
Sente called these types of hits "sub-concussive" and said that though they don't cause immediate injury, they can cause brain damage over time.
This year Sente is bringing a name and face to the issue. She said retired Chicago Bears guard Kurt Becker of the Super Bowl-winning 1985 team has agreed to speak on the issue in Springfield. Becker is a football coach at Aurora East High School.
"By having a well-known name and role model in professional sports involved, I hope we will be able to generate the awareness we need," she said.
The Chicago Youth Football League in Lake Zurich has been practicing these precautions for three years, President Geoff Meyer said. He said the league has medical trainers on the sidelines of every game and doesn't allow offseason hitting.
"Today's game is 10 times safer than it was 10 years ago," Meyer said.
Tom Cross Carol Sente
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Carolyn Gilbert, the teacher who lost an eye after being stabbed by a student in her classroom in 2008, laughs onstage at a fashion show put on by Elgin High School students last month.
Angel Facio Carol Sente
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Carol Sente Carol Sente