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Youth Football Numbers Fall As Concussion Fears Rise

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Concussion concerns and head injuries have become a mainstream topic from the NFL down to youth football.

It’s become such a concern for some parents that they are encouraging their kids not to try out for football. Coach John Ekholm has been a part of the Richfield youth football league for the past 10 years. He has seen players come and go. But lately, he’s seen more players leave than join.

“We are down a team. So, I’d say about 15 players,” said Ekholm.

The reason is easy to see. Ekholm and other coaches called the parents of kids who didn’t come out this year. They were told concussions and physical play were the reasons why.

Richfield’s fifth and sixth grade numbers are down, but numbers are even worse for younger players. Last year at the third and fourth grade levels, Richfield had five teams with 15 players each. This year, it’s down to four, with just 12 players on each team.

It’s the same in other cities. In Eagan, they’ve lost about 10 percent of players from last year, and Eden Prairie has seen a 20 percent decrease.

Youth football leagues have tried to do what they can to alleviate concerns about concussions. Extra padding was added in helmets a couple years ago, and some can even be filled with air to fit around the head better.

But coaches may be facing a third and long to make the sport seem safe.

“I don’t think it’s overplayed, I think some people are overly-cautious. But I don’t know how that can be a bad thing necessarily,” said Ken Merwin, whose son plays linebacker and center.

The goal now isn’t to win or lose, but to get numbers back up. That means making safety a priority over first downs and touchdowns.

“We aren’t out here to get anyone hurt. We are out here to promote the fundamentals and the values and the way the game should be played,” said Ekholm.

Richfield coaches are concussion certified at the beginning of the year, and players are required to read warning labels on helmets during the first day of practice.

Coach Ekholm said they stress safe tackling, and the league sees about one or two concussions a year.

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