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Safety first: ‘Our sport is definitely changing’

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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

Football, on many levels, is an evolving sport.

Pressure to gain whatever advantage necessary for success on the field coupled with concerns about concussions and other injuries have forced coaches at all levels to respond accordingly.

With heightened awareness about concussions, attempts at prevention have become as central a part of preparation as game plans.

“You never know everything there is to know about football,” said Mike Gillin, who this summer enters his 14th season with the Braves and 36th overall as a head high school coach in Indiana.

 “Our sport is definitely changing. Bigger, faster, stronger.

“You keep plugging along and keep teaching technique because that’s what it’s all about.”

Like many programs, Indian Creek has aligned itself with USA Football, a nonprofit organization formed in 2002 to be the governing body for amateur American football in the United States. Center Grove, Greenwood and Whiteland are connected to a lesser degree, while Franklin and Edinburgh continue to research services offered by USA Football.

A second resource

Headquartered in Indianapolis

since August 2010, USA Football is

endowed by the NFL and the league’s players association.

One of the many services USA Football offers is the Heads Up program, designed to help make the sport safer at the youth and high school levels through a comprehensive collection of resources and programs. Areas the group attempts to educate include proper tackling form, heat preparedness, hydration, injury prevention, nutrition and equipment fitting.

Online services available to coaches with a full membership include a practice planner, access to a video library dedicated to various football practice drills and a template to create wristbands for quarterbacks and other players.

“Football is under attack a little bit because of concussions, and being involved with them provides us with some credibility because this program is backed by the NFL,” Franklin Community High School head coach Adam Reese said. “The fundamentals we’re teaching, I think, are very good, but parents don’t always know that.

“(USA Football) gives credence to what we’re doing.”

Safety first

“In terms of player safety, it has several components to it,” USA Football spokesman Steve Alic said. “What we’re seeing in Heads Up football is establishing standards rooted in education. Changing behavior for the better. Every youth and high school football program that engages in Heads Up Football deserves credit.

“They are showing extraordinary dedication to their young athletes.”

Cost to join USA Football is $50 annually per coach.

In Franklin’s case, for instance, Reese estimates the Grizzlies’ program will have about 25 coaches dedicated to teaching tackle football from Grades 3 through 6.

“What the coaches get is basically techniques and some advice in practice planning. What the players get are the Heads Up tackling techniques, where you’re taking the head out of the tackling process,” Reese said.

“It’s easier to teach players the right way the first time than it is to correct kids who have been doing it a certain way for years.”

Power struggle

It’s here coaches can struggle because of the fine line separating what their program teaches and tackling fundamentals endorsed by USA Football.

“We film all the tackling drills we do so we can show the younger kids how it’s done. Their coaches know these drills, too,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “What (USA Football) is doing is great, but we run our offense the same way, run our defense the same way, and we’re going to tackle the same way.”

Whiteland head coach Darrin Fisher echoes the sentiment.

“USA Football is not our official vendor for tackling progression, but we have used some of their resources in the past and will continue to do so in the future,” Fisher said. “An organized way of teaching form tackling is important. But, gosh, maybe once a game you’ll see form tackling.

“Heads Up is a great piece to start with, but I believe there’s more to it.”

Center Grove’s association with USA Football gives the Trojans program a second ally in terms of instruction.

“We started a relationship with them right away,” said Aaron Hohlt, president of Center Grove Bantam Football League in 2011 and 2012. “Somewhere around 2009 they helped us promote and extend the marketing of the annual Pro Bowl tournament. Because of that we built a pretty strong relationship.

“Through studies we found out that a lot of the safety components, such as how we tackled, we were already teaching. Now I think our bantam league has two great places to go with Eric Moore’s high school program and USA Football.

“People in the Center Grove area should feel very, very confident that we’ve taken all the measures for kids to be as safe as they can be.”

Potential game-changer

On March 24, Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 222, making Indiana the first state to require concussion-specified training for football coaches at the youth and high school levels.

The law, which goes into effect July 1, also forces coaches to impose a 24-hour waiting period on players suspected of having suffered a concussion.

As a less-expensive alternative for training coaches than what USA Football provides, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) soon will offer an online course encompassing the requirements of the new law. The course will cover heat acclimation, concussion awareness and safer tackling form.

“We want to be one of the options for coaches. We’re going to design our course to hit all these points,” said assistant commissioner Robert Faulkens, who presides over football and three other sports for the IHSAA. “We’re looking at it being free or for a fee of $5.

“We’re hopeful it will be available to coaches between July 1 and Aug. 4, which is the first day of practice (for the 2014 season).”

Already, the IHSAA’s option is enticing some.

“We’re not in (USA Football). Do we use the terminology and watch some of their videos? Yes. But with the new law, we want to see what the IHSAA puts together,” Greenwood football coach Mike Campbell said. “It will cover our bases as far as what the law requires.”

While USA Football isn’t every high school football program’s attempt at additional educational resources, Gillin said he thinks it has earned a rightful place on the vast gridiron landscape.

“We got involved two years ago. I just thought all in all it’s a good thing to do because they’re trying to do the right thing,” Gillin said. “Just trying to make the sport better, I think it’s the best thing for football in a long time.”


What is a concussion?

A type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall or another injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull. Although there may be cuts or bruises on the head or face, there might be no visible signs of a brain injury.

Potential symptoms



Visual problems

Balance problems

Sensitivity to light

Sensitivity to noise

Numbness or tingling





Feeling more emotional


Mentally foggy

Concentration problems

Memory problems


Sleep disturbances


Feeling slowed down

SOURCES: WebMD and Indiana Sports Concussion Network


What: Indiana Sports Concussion Network

Founded: 2008

Mission: To promote awareness and proper management of sports-related concussions.

Phone: 571-8233

FAX: 817-1220

Email: concussion@methodist


Website: indianasports


Foundation: ISCN is an

initiative of the Methodist

Sports Medicine Research

and Education

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