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The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)


DURHAM — Parents turned out in force to talk about football at the school board meeting in Durham Wednesday night. Oyster River High School does not have a football program. Parents who want their kids to play high school football want the board to authorize the athletic director to solicit cooperation agreements with Portsmouth and Dover.

According to Krista Butts, who runs the local youth football league with her husband, Jeffrey, there are 19 boys in the eighth grade who play. Butts said 14 are considering going to a private school or transferring out of district so they can play."For these kids, this is what engages them in school and this is what motivates them every fall.

It gets their energy out. It helps them focus," Butts said before the meeting. Her son, Tyler, is one of those players. He is applying to St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover.

Butts said an agreement with Portsmouth and/or Dover would not cost Durham taxpayers anything because parents would be responsible for costs.Not everyone in the community wants to see Oyster River students playing football. Robert Barth, a doctor from Lee, penned a letter to school board members earlier this month.

"It is a blatant form of child abuse to encourage and allow 5 to 16-year-olds to play this game," Barth said."There is no way this body should support high school football."At the meeting, board member Kenneth Rotner recused himself from the football discussion after he said he has been threatened for speaking at the last meeting because his comments were taken out of context.

Rotner, a doctor, said he does not feel that people in the community are discussing the risks and benefits of football and are basing their decisions on emotion.John Jones, a Durham resident, and other parents said they resent the comments that they don't understand the risks associated with football.

Hope Flynn of Madbury said her son, Logan, was concussed playing football. When she spoke with his teachers about the injury, Flynn learned there were seven other student-athletes who also suffered from concussions during the same time period.Two of those concussions were suffered by soccer players.

The rest of the concussions came from biking, basketball, swimming, horseriding and hockey.Flynn said over 100 players in the youth football program, and they are a part of the community."Let our kids play football if they want to play football," Flynn said.

School board members discussed the issue, and Denise Day said she wants to make sure that if an agreement is reached and doesn't work out, that the district is not on the hook for a football program. Board member Allan Howland said football has come up a number of times over the years.

"It's such an emotional issue that every time it comes up it divides our community," Howland said.Howland said they should have another warrant article on the topic.The board approved a motion that would allow the athletic director to solicit cooperation agreements by a vote of 6-0, with Rotner abstaining. They will hear more details at their first board meeting in January.

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November 17, 2017


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