Pop Warner on the horizon, focus on safety at the forefront

DALLAS - Protecting children is at the forefront of every parent's mind, but it can be difficult when it comes to sports.Even more so when that sport is football and we are talking about student-athletes from third to eighth grade. Pop Warner Youth Football is just the latest football league to take greater precautions to prevent head trauma to its young athletes. This increased level of caution is especially important for young developing brains. "It was a pretty big change in this community to switch over to the Pop Warner age and weight schematic, but I believe overall it has made youth football a lot safer," said Dave Brautigam, Mid-Valley Pop Warner's Dallas Association athletic director. In fact, the statistics provided at the national level by Pop Warner bear this out, as there are one-third less injuries than in high school football, and one-fifth less than college football.On average, according to a 1998 study conducted by the Institute of Sports Medicine in New York City, 5 percent of Pop Warner players will have some sort of injury with 61 percent of those being classified as moderate and 39 percent being severe. No injuries in the study were considered catastrophic, but this study was done before the seriousness of brain trauma was addressed in football. Over the past three years, Pop Warner has instituted increasingly strict policies when it comes to concussions in players in its programs. Culminating this year in a partnership with the NFL, USA Football's Heads Up Football program will train more than 20,000 coaches across the country in better and safer ways to teach and play the game. The focus of these programs is to teach coaches the fundamentals of safety, create safety protocols, ensure proper equipment fitting and promote an overall greater awareness of concussion symptoms."Our coaches go through quite a bit of training on and off the field. They are required to go to an Oregon School Activities Association concussion safety course, along with online programs provided by Pop Warner to ensure they are educated on the topic," Brautigum said. This training is reinforced at early season camps, like the one Dallas Pop Warner participants will be attending with the Dallas High School football team starting next week. The other major improvement to youth player safety over the last few years: equipment. Long gone are the days of strapping on whatever pads and helmet you find laying around. Now, Pop Warner players have state-of-the-art equipment, especially helmets, that are fitted to each child's head, further ensuring their safety on the field. "We play on high school fields, which are generally safer than in a park somewhere, and the helmets have come a long way. These kids are using the same equipment colleges use," Brautigum said. Pop Warner participants will begin their season with equipment check-out Wednesday (today).

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