Tackling Trouble: Is high school football safe?

Tackling Trouble: Is high school football safe?

(WTOL) - Tackling is one of the key ingredients in high school football, but with each hit on the gridiron comes a lurking danger.

Seventeen-year-old Luke Schemm, is one of 11 high school football players that died as a result of the game in the US this year. A traumatic brain injury during the final play of a game left him brain dead.

In late October, a Chicago teen died on the gridiron. A medical examiner ruled Andre Smith's death accidental, by blunt force head injuries he received while playing football.

Before that, Cam'ron Matthews of Texas died after collapsing on the sidelines. Evan Murray died from a lacerated spleen he suffered during a game.

"High school football deaths are disturbing," said Dr. Gregory Landry of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new guidelines for improving the safety of youth football. The recommendations include having athletic trainers on the sidelines, offering non-tackle football as an alternative, and zero tolerance for illegal head-first hits.

"There are too many head-to-head hits – leading with the head, known as spearing," Dr. Landry said. "That has been against the rules since 1976. And for some reason, refs and coaches have gotten away from enforcing that rule."

The danger on the field is one that former Clay High School lineman Chris Hatfield knows too well.

"I was in a drill, I believe at practice," Hatfield recalled. "I don't know if it was helmet-to-helmet, I'm assuming [it was], because I was knocked out."

The hit he took led to a traumatic brain injury.

"I couldn't function. I had amnesia until February," he said.

Hatfield's injury is exactly the kind medical professionals want coaches and athletic directors to help their players avoid.

"When you have two individuals running full-speed at each other and colliding, there is going to be some impact," said Rogers High School Athletic Director Harold Howell.

Howell says the new suggested guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics were implemented in Ohio last year by the state's high school athletic association. The guidelines limit how much players can hit and tackle each week and crack down on illegal hits.

When asked if he thinks there will come a day when there is no tackling in football, Howell said:

"With the NFL and college football making so much money, I don't see it in the near future because of that. Possibly in high school, but even then, how are coaches supposed to recruit those kids?"

Howell says new helmet technology along with less violent forms of tackling – like the Rugby technique – could be the answer to keeping kids safe. Until that is mandated, he says, proper coaching will have to do.

"It's all about the technique, keeping your head up, not putting it down, so you don't get the crown or your neck injured," he said.

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