Opinion: Tackle Football Should Be Parents' Choice

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Orange County Register (California)


Two California legislators say they will propose legislation that would establish a minimum age for kids to play contact football.

State Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, who with another Democrat assembly member, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, announced they would pursue creating the bill, said, "Football in general has its risks and it's especially dangerous to younger kids."

People got fired up by this talk of having a law forbidding tackle football until high school. A SaveCaliforniaFootball account now is on Twitter, and #SaveCaliforniaFootball is active on social media. Charges of "nanny state" and "this is un-American" ensued.

Frank Mazzotta, La Habra High's football coach since 1998 with seven CIF Southern Section championships during his tenure, said youth football is not dangerous.

"At that young age, kids don't generate enough power to get concussions," said Mazzotta, who played high school and college football. His father Frank has been Cerritos College's football coach for more than 40 years.

But, while he is certain youth tackle football is not a menace, Mazzotta said parents are wrong to think that playing tackle football before getting to high school is necessary for high school football success.

"We've had so many kids who didn't play tackle until they got here who turned out to be great players," Mazzotta said. "Guys like Greg Gaines."

Gaines was a first-team All-Orange County defensive lineman at La Habra in 2013. He just finished his junior season at Washington and was named All-Pac 12 second team.

Youth football has size restrictions and Gaines was too big to fall within those restrictions, but the point here is that parents are wrong if they think their sons need to play youth tackle football to ensure success in high school football.

First-hand experience here: My son, despite the urgings from other dads coaching youth tackle football, played flag football until he went to high school. He had a great high school football experience and played Division III college football, including starting some games as a freshman. Staying away from tackle football until high school worked fine.

Maybe legislation is not needed to dissuade kids and their parents from avoiding tackle football. CIF State surveys show that participation in high school football is decreasing. Parents and kids are hearing and reading about the sometimes tragic toll that football has on its players, old and not-so-old alike.

In 2015, 100,205 California high school kids played football. That was a reduction of 3,500 from the year before. In 2016, the most recent year numbers are available, the number of participants dropped to 97,079.

Meanwhile, an all-time high of 785,357 high school kids participated in CIF high school athletics in California. Kids are playing sports more than ever. Football, though, is not growing in kind.

The statistics show what decisions parents and kids are making about playing tackle football. And it is to those parents and kids that those decisions belong.

Taking a look around Orange County high school sports:

•Former St. Margaret's football head coach Stephen Barbee was named head coach at Long Beach Poly on Thursday. Barbee stopped coaching St. Margaret's in August to deal with a medical issue. Rob Healy took over as interim coach for the 2017 season, but Healy said he will not be the head coach next season.

St. Margaret's is expected to name a head coach soon.

•The huge majority of Saddleback Valley Christian boys basketball players did everything right so that their team could win a league championship and qualify for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. One player, though, was found to have been ineligible after he already had played in every Saddleback Valley Christian game so the team had to forfeit its wins, thus removing SVC from the playoffs in which they had been seeded third in Division 3AA. Depending upon whom you ask, a mistake was made by either recently-fired coach Tom Lewis or by school principal and athletic director Rod Markum - whoever it was, good kids took the brunt of an adult error.

•Of this winter's six Sunset/Trinity Baseball Challenge games, in which a Sunset League team played a Trinity League team, Trinity teams won three games, Sunset teams won one game and there were two ties. These were sort of like spring training exhibition games for the teams. The baseball season officially begins Feb. 24.

•Also starting their seasons Feb. 24 are teams in the spring sports of boys golf, boys and girls lacrosse, softball, boys and girls swimming, boys volleyball and boys and girls track and field. The boys tennis season begins Monday.

•Watching Villa Park senior basketball player Matt Lanzone play, the thought here is "why am I not hearing that Lanzone is getting recruited?" Well, he has turned down offers from Sacramento State and Humboldt State. He comes from a family in which just about everyone went to Ohio State and became lawyers and Lanzone wants to follow that path.

@SteveFryer on Twitter

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February 16, 2018


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