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Spokane’s Biggest Youth League Drops Tackle Football, Replacing With Flag

Our son Dhylan (38) playing KGK  8 years ago (Jeff Boyus-KGK)
Our son Dhylan (38) playing KGK 8 years ago (Jeff Boyus-KGK)

When I saw this, the first thought that came to mind was, in a few years watch the continued decline of the Greater Spokane League (high school football). This decision WILL affect the high school programs for years to come.

Spokane media sources, including KREM-2 TV, reported Tuesday morning the Spokane Youth Sports Association (SYSA) has announced after 50-plus years, they are dropping all tackle football programs, and replacing with flag football.

SYSA represents the vast majority of youth sports played in the Lilac City. The Spokane Youth Football Association is the pigskin branch of this sports league. It’s basically like Kennewick Grid Kids, Pasco Youth Football and the Richland League all rolled into one.

Information released by the association says it’s not a reaction to that new study released reportedly showing brain trauma in nearly 100% of former NFL players who donated their brains for study, but instead a response to the growing popularity of flag football. I think otherwise.

While certainly NOTHING against flag, this decision will affect the middle and high school programs. Regardless of what anyone tells you, you cannot simulate ‘real’ game conditions with flags. With the skill positions, it’s a lot easier. But for linemen and even linebackers, this makes football a lot less attractive.  You cannot hone offensive and defensive line techniques properly without full pads and contact. Period.

Kids who are not blessed with speed or “hands” but who would make great offensive or defensive linemen, defensive ends, or linebackers will be less likely to even try football now, due to the watered down approach.

Now, the game will basically become an 11-player version of what’s called “7-on-7″ where backs and receivers spar with defensive backs running routes and throwing on every down.

In July, a Boston University study of brains of former NFL players showed evidence of CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephelapathy, which leads to further brain and neurological issues. However, over the last decade, especially the last 5 years, great steps have been taken in helmet protection and research, and changing techniques to minimize head trauma. The effects of these new safety procedures will not be known for years, but today’s players have FAR safer conditions than those even when I played.

The players who brains were studied played well before most of the newer safety features and techniques were introduced to the game.

In h.s. I got my ‘bell rung’ several times, and in college at Whitworth even broke the screws on the facemask on the front of my helmet. Since then, ‘forehead first’ leading blocking and tackling techniques have been done away with, most of them years ago.

My son, who’s a senior-to-be at Kamiakin, has played since he was a freshman. Now a 6′ 3″ 230 lb. offensive tackle, he says since Day One they were learning and drilling the rugby style shoulder tackle, and honing blocking techniques that don’t involve the front of the helmet. While caution must be taken of course when a player sustains a hit to the head, there is still far too much that is NOT yet known about this topic.

Our daughter Harley is preparing for her 4th year of KGK, and enjoys the experience, and knows the right and wrong way to block and tackle. She says she’s had it drilled into her since the beginning. We have taught KGK kids the shoulder style tackle for a number of years now. Any kid who leads with their head gets to run a lap as punishment.

While the research needs to continue, and safety continued to improve, it’s sad to see knee-jerk reactions by parents and leagues, to the point of dropping the sport altogether. I have coached for 7 years in Kennewick Grid Kids, and have seen first hand the vastly improved efforts to protect players.

The Greater Spokane League, minus Gonzaga Prep (the private school is are able to ‘attract’ players from up to a 50 mile radius), has been in a decline the last few seasons. Kamiakin, Southridge, and other Mid Columbia Conference schools have beaten them badly of late, and the GSL hasn’t had a team besides G-Prep last one round in the WIAA playoffs.

In a few years, the impact of not having a ‘real’ football league will be felt at the H.S. level, regardless of what supporters of the flag football programs say.

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