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Less pop in Pop Warner football

When Mon River Pop Warner youth football teams begin practice Aug. 1, hitting won’t be as much of the equation.

Pop Warner is limiting contact in practice as part of an effort to reduce players’ risk of concussion. Pop Warner’s medical advisory board made the announcement this week.

Under the new regulations, coaches must limit contact to no more than one-third of their practice time. It also is banning full-speed, head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players line up more than three yards apart. Coaches can have full-speed drills in which players approach each other at an angle but “not straight ahead into each other.” There also should be no head-to-head contact.

The change is part of the growing dialogue surrounding player safety. The long-term health effects of repeated blows to the head have become an issue for the NFL, which is being sued by more than 2,000 retirees, and some parents have voiced concern about letting their children play football.

Pop Warner said it is the “first youth sports organization to limit contact in practice.”

“By instituting these new rules and providing our coaches with proper tackling training and education in concussion awareness and prevention, we aim to equip our members with the tools they need to safely participate in the game they love,” Pop Warner executive director Jon Butler said.

More than 400,000 children in 43 states as well as with Scotland, Germany, Russia, Japan and Mexico participate in Pop Warner Little Scholars’ football, cheerleading and dance programs. There are four Pop Warner leagues in the Pittsburgh area.

“Pop Warner generally tries to stay ahead of what’s going on,” said Kevin Williams, football commissioner for Mon Valley division. “You don’t really need all that much contact. Walk-throughs are just as important as contact. Whenever you go slower, you can emphasize technique.”

Williams said he remembers only one concussion last season among Mon Valley football players.

Felicia Tate, athletic trainer and team advisor for the Eastside Panthers, said she is present at every practice and did not see player safety as a concern.

“I think it’s fine just the way it is,” she said.

Williams expects the practice rule to be monitored by each individual team’s president.

“If people think that you have to have all that contact at this level of play,” Williams said, “then they should get away from midget football.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Meredith Qualls is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.


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