Youth football league practice begins
Kids geared up for the first day of Dartmouth Youth Football League practice on August 5, but the fields behind Dartmouth Middle School were not as full of young football fans as they once were.
That’s because enrollment numbers are noticeably down this year, and it has coaches and football officials worried — not just about the future of the program, but for the future of the sport as a whole.
Two of the organization’s age brackets — seven and eight year olds, and 13 and 14 year olds — currently do not have enough players to form an official team.
It is an unusual cycle, noted DYFL secretary Melissa Boucher, because the younger and older age groups have enough players for two teams. But she and DYFL President Mike Boucher have an idea about what’s going on: A fear of concussions.
Research has linked hard hits and concussions in contact football among professional athletes with brain diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Growing awareness of the problem has prompted concerns about whether or not children should be allowed to play football.
However, Mike noted with that increased awareness, Pop Warner Football and the DYFL has brought big changes to the program.
“Our organization prides itself on safety for the children,” Mike said.
Among the new Pop Warner rules this year: Bans on three-point stances, more strict contact rules and even the elimination of kickoffs for most of the younger divisions. Instead of a kickoff, the ball will default to a set yard line.
The DYFL staffs every team with someone who is CPR-certified, and nurses and an ambulance are on hand at each event, just in case. All coaches also have to complete
“Pop Warner football is changing, and has evolved to get safer,” Mike said.
As for the future of football, Mike noted playing in youth leagues like the DYFL will help prepare kids for change which is bound to happen to the sport. That has always been a major focus: to prepare students for high school football
Even though practice has already started, there is still time to register for DYFL programs, which include football and cheerleading for kids between the ages of 7-14. Visit dyfl.org for more information.