Once the pinnacle of high school sports football now faces a steep decline

Jacob Klionsky

In the Bay Area, all but one high school sport has increased in total participation: football. In fact, high school football has experienced a ten percent decrease in participation in the past decade, according to the California Interscholastic Federation. Throughout high schools in Marin, this has been apparent and was brought to larger attention when news was released that Novato High School was contemplating cutting their football program. Once a perennial playoff threat, it was shocking that they were struggling to even field a team.

Unlike other sports, football stands out when it comes to the number of head injuries that players experience. These numbers have gotten increasingly higher as the years have gone on, despite the new safety technology such as new helmets aimed at preventing injuries.

According to Prevacus, a Florida State University lab that focuses on treating concussions, there are around 67,000 diagnosed concussions in high school football every year.

Due to this unsettling fact, students have steered away from the sport as they, or their parents, believe that the negative consequences trump the positive.

This happened to be the case for Novato High School junior Brad Arata, who played football freshman and sophomore year but decided to quit this season due to high risk of injury.

“I actually love the sport — it’s a great sport —- but I think that the risk you take when playing it is not in your best interest if you’re expecting to have a career in something else,” Arata said.

Redwood senior Johnny Fitzgerald, who had been playing the sport since fifth grade, experienced this issue firsthand when he was told that he wasn’t going to be able to play high school football due to the amount of concussions he has had.

#27 junior Cole Rehm gets ready to tackle #66 senior Drew Kellerman during practice
#27 junior Cole Rehm gets ready to tackle #66 senior Drew Kellerman during practice

Coach Allen Talley agrees that one of the main reasons for the disinterest in football is the facts surrounding football injuries.

“The biggest thing is the safety issue [which is] seen in the higher levels especially when it comes to head injuries,” Talley said.

With the health risks that football presents, students who are just looking for a fun sport to play in high school have to decide if it is worth playing football in the long run.  

Fitzgerald believes that a main reason Redwood athletes avoid football is because it’s one of the toughest sports to be recruited for.  

“Many people at Redwood play sports that they want to go college for. With football, it’s pretty difficult to do that,” Fitzgerald said.

Although it seems that football is trending downward, there are many encouraging developments for the sport. Although some MCAL teams are questioning cutting their programs, Branson just started its own 7v7 football team. After one undefeated season for the Bulls, the team is looking like a success.

This 7v7 type of play demonstrates an alternate way to make the sport safer because the tackling aspect of regular football is removed. Although injuries do still occur, the number and severity of them is far lower.

With continued advancements in football and medical technology, researchers have found ways to lower concussion rates in practice. According to Elliot Kastner of the Thayer School of Engineering, college teams such as Dartmouth are using ‘Mobile Virtual Players’ which are a form of robotic punching bags capable of moving 20 mph around a football field. While solely using these robots in practice as tackling dummies, the Dartmouth football team can avert head injuries in practice, while still getting their tackling drills in.

While not all teams are capable of purchasing these devices, Arata explained that since nearly half of head trauma incidents happen during practice, having shorter full-contact practices could create a safer environment.

By taking these precautions, football will become a much safer sport. When this occurs, more talent will be driven to football as more kids will be able to train safely in the years leading up to high school.

In the meantime, Talley is continuing to build Redwood’s football program one team at a time and hoping to improve upon their last season accomplishments.

“I think when you win you get more guys interested —- to go to the playoffs two years in a row there’s just something to build off to get even better,” Talley said.