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Making youth football safer


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The Center Grove Bantam Football League is one of 30 pilot leagues in Indiana participating USA Football's Heads Up Football safety program. Submitted photo.
The Center Grove Bantam Football League is one of 30 pilot leagues in Indiana participating USA Football's Heads Up Football safety program. Submitted photo.

The Center Grove Bantam Football League is one of 30 pilot leagues in Indiana participating USA Football's Heads Up Football safety program. Submitted photo.
The Center Grove Bantam Football League is one of 30 pilot leagues in Indiana participating USA Football's Heads Up Football safety program. Submitted photo.


USA Football is giving young Center Grove area football players a literal heads up.

Dozens of youth coaches from the Center Grove Bantam Football League will take part in a season-long pilot program aimed at safety, especially the prevention and identification of head injuries.

Heads Up Football, a joint program of USA Football and the NFL, is a comprehensive approach to a better and safer game, encompassing USA Football’s accredited Level 1 Coach Certification Course, Heads Up Tackling techniques, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concussion recognition and response protocols, and instruction on proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.

Center Grove bantam league coaches will get their first look at the program in a clinic Sunday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

“Every one of our coaches will get a membership to USA Football and get a safety certification,” said Beau Barrett, the bantam league’s president. “The training will cover equipment

fittings, communication with parents, techniques for tackling and blocking, as well as recognizing concussions.”

Thirty youth programs from around the state will take part in the Indiana portion of a national effort aimed especially at learning proper form and protocols.

With much focus on head injuries already, coaches are teaching players to keep their heads to the side when tackling and striking with the front of their shoulder pads.

But part of Heads Up is using consistent terminology to label those basic steps.

“It’s not been an issue, but awareness has been widespread,” Barrett said. “Football is one of the main targets. We’ve not had an issue, but we feel like this is taking a preventative step.”

That training should also translate into more comfort for parents of young athletes.

“When we step out for field for practice, we know that every coach has gone through that training, and it gives us a lot of peace of mind,” said Barrett, noting the bantam league oversees more than 700 aspiring football players and cheerleaders.

USA Football Master Trainer Andy Ryland, a former Penn State linebacker, will lead the program.

Heads Up is an initiative of USA Football, an Indianapolis-based group that receives financial and promotional support from the NFL. The Colts are a local sponsor. Colts Youth Football Commissioner Mike Prior will assist with the training.

After completing the workshop, Player Safety Coaches will oversee their leagues’ implementation of the highest national coaching standards for youth football. Player Safety Coaches also will monitor practices and games throughout the season.

For Barrett and his coaches, this is another chance to keep the bantam league at the forefront of new developments.

“We feel like we’ve been a leader,” he said. “Being a pilot organization and raising the Heads Up issue keeps us in the forefront. It also brings peace of mind for parents. We’ve always emphasized technique, but this makes sure all our coaches have that training.”

USA Football hopes to eventually take the Heads Up program to all 10,000 youth leagues across the nation.

‘’I think we have to do a better job of teaching it, teaching the updated techniques at the grass-roots level so that players can play the game and get all the benefits that come out of it,’’ Bill Cowher, the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Steelers and now a CBS commentator, told the AP at a national kickoff event last month.

The coach joins Deion Sanders, Brett Favre and Michael Strahan on the program’s advisory committee.

‘’There are so many positives, and I feel like, at times, we focus on the one negative and what we’re trying to do is address that, so that we realize there are so many more positives that the game of football provides young people.”

For CGBFL coaches, the timing could not be better.

The coaches will start to practice their new training at a skills camp run by Center Grove High School coach Eric Moore on July 15 and then prepare for the opening of the season on Aug. 10.

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