PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — High school playoff football is kicking off in towns all over Southwestern Pennsylvania. But some people envision a day when youth football will be only a shadow of what it used to be.
For generations, youth football has been a staple of autumn in Western Pennsylvania, but now it is in crisis.
“You can definitely see there’s a dwindling number of kids participating,” said Sean McCaskill, of the Guyasuta Tomahawks.
Leagues like the Greater 28 are now having trouble fielding teams.
“We had one team that had to drop out. We had one organization that couldn’t field a team this year,” said Jeff Tatuscko, of Greater 28. “Clearly the issue of concussions is making parents concerned.”
In the past five years, participation in Diocesan football is off more than 20 percent.
School enrollment is also down, but as concussion awareness rises, more boys are opting to play fall baseball, soccer and lacrosse to the dismay of coaches like Steve Spotts.
“There’s a lot of passion in this area for it and there’s a lot of good football players but they’ve got other alternatives that at this point parents and even players feel that is a safer alternative,” said Spotts.
While football leads the pack in youth and high school concussions, sports like hockey, lacrosse and even girls’ soccer are not that far behind.
Football moms like Rachel Colker say youth football is getting an undeserved rap.
“I feel that playing football is in many ways safer than the others sports my son plays because of the awareness and the training the coaches have had in recognizing concussions,” she says.
Programs like the East End Crusaders have baseline testing, new specially fitted helmets and rigorous coaching against the use of the head for blocking and tackling.
Still, Coach Bill Reilly concedes that football faces an uphill public relations battle.
“I think we’ll always have football, and it will always be the primary sport; but yes, the numbers are down and that’s a concern to the coaches and I think everyone in Western Pennsylvania,” Reilly said.