A Small Town Gave Up Tackle Football. It Came Storming Back.

A community’s struggle with when children should play tackle football reflects a broader debate over the sport and who is left playing it.

New York Times: By Ken Belson Photographs by Brandon Thibodeaux

MARSHALL, Texas — One evening last spring, a retired doctor named James Harris carried a pickle jar filled with bright red Jell-O to Marshall’s school board meeting.

He shook it up so the Jell-O sloshed against the glass, a representation, he told the school board members, of what happens to the brain during a hard hit in football and what can happen to those who are allowed to play the sport at a young age.

“The brain is like this Jell-O in the bottle,” he told them. “When the head hits the ground, it hits front and back, and swishes, twists, sloshes and stretches inside the skull.”

It was a dramatic presentation. It was also futile.

The board listened and then voted unanimously on the matter at hand, to bring back tackle football for seventh graders, which it had banned only five years ago.

Football is a powerful, cultural force in Marshall, a city of about 24,000 people in East Texas, where high school games can draw half of the city’s residents and church ends early on Sundays when the Dallas Cowboys are playing.

Still, even Marshall has not been immune to the nationwide debate over whether and how young children should play tackle football — and the shifting demographics of who is left playing it.

The most urgent battle lines are forming along the first years of tackle football, including middle school in many parts of the country, even as football remains by far the most popular sport in the United States. But high school participation has dropped more than 10 percent in the past decade, even in football hotbeds like Texas, Ohio and Florida, as young athletes and their families seek alternatives they perceive as safer.ON DEFENSE Articles in this series are exploring the debate about the future of football.Inside Football’s Campaign to Save the GameNov. 8, 2019

Despite all the warnings about the risks of tackle football in Marshall, two youth leagues popped up to replace the programs that had been disbanded in recent years. And this year, the school district’s new athletic director, Jake Griedl, who is also the high school football coach, persuaded the school board to restart seventh-grade football, too. He reassured trustees that the game was safer now because of new rules, more medical attendants at games and expanded training for coaches in modern tackling methods and concussion protocols.

“Anything you can do to ease the minds of parents is good,” Griedl said this fall. “People don’t realize it’s safe.”

Read the complete article at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/16/sports/youth-tackle-football-marshall-texas.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

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