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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Football is a way of life here in Pennsylvania.
But, parents of kids who want to play tackle football face a tough choice these days.
While football remains intensely popular, more and more studies link the sport to an increased risk of brain injury, especially for the youngest players.
Now, a youth football league in Somerset County is finding another way to teach the fundamentals of football.
The Windber Youth Football League has joined a number of schools, turning to flag football for its youngest players.
“When we were playing tackle, we noticed we were sending them over to the ambulance for concussion protocol, and it just got to the point where we were like ‘this is crazy,’” says coach Brian Oleksa.
In a paper published this fall, the Aspen Institute recommended flag football as the standard for kids before age 14.
Concussion specialist Dr. Robert Cantu says children are more vulnerable to hits because their heads are disproportionately bigger than their bodies, and their necks are weaker.
“People who start playing tackle football under the age of 12 have a greater chance of later life behavior, cognitive and mood issues comparted to a group that started later in life,” says Dr. Cantu.
NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Farve agrees.
He supports a bill in Illinois to do away with tackle for young players.
New Jersey, Maryland, New York and California have all introduced similar bills to ban tackle football for kids under 12, but none have had enough support to pass.
Meanwhile, parents in Windber say flag football is a great alternative.
“He’s learning the game of football, the fundamental skills and being safe at the same time,” says mother Amy Stone.
And for their kids, it’s still about the love of the game.