Sports

California aims to keep young football players safe even as fewer play in high school

The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the state’s high school sports, is reporting a drop in football participation for the fourth year in a row.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the state’s high school sports, is reporting a drop in football participation for the fourth year in a row. Special to The Bee

For the fourth year in a row, fewer high school athletes will take the gridiron.

According to numbers released Thursday by the California Interscholastic Federation, 91,305 students will play 11-on-11 football, a decrease of just under 3.2 percent from 2018.

“As in previous years, we have noticed a steady and continued decrease in football participants,” CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said in a media release. “It is imperative that we continue to partner with organizations such as USA Football and their football development model which provides a road map for how we coach, play and learn the game at every level.”

In the Sac-Joaquin Section, which covers 198 schools in Sacramento and 14 other counties, football numbers dropped from 2017 to 2018, according to Will DeBoard, the section’s assistant commissioner. DeBoard said about 150 of those schools compete in football and the overall numbers from those years went down from 11,673 to 10,878, a 6.8 percent decrease.

The state’s decline in football is in contrast to overall prep sports participation in the state, which the CIF State office says is at an all-time high for the seventh consecutive year.

“It’s reassuring to see the overall participation increase in education-based athletics,” said Nocetti, who recently took over as CIF’s executive director for the retired Roger Blake. “Over the past seven years, the 14 percent increase in girls participating is especially encouraging.”

The number of football participants may have dropped, but California has acted to protect the players who have chosen that sport. The state just passed a law that is aimed at keeping younger participants safer, especially against brain injuries.

The Youth Football Act – authored by Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and signed Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom – limits full-contact practices to a maximum of 30 minutes each day no more than twice a week and outlaws full-contact sessions when not in season.

The Associated Press reports state law already limits full-contact practices for middle and high school football teams to 90 minutes per day up to twice a week. Also, a medical professional must be present for all games and an independent person attend practices who can remove players showing injury signs.

The law is aimed at preventing a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly referred to as CTE. The disease is linked to the repeated head blows that are common in football.

California’s action follows rule changes made by the NFL and NCAA in a bid to curb head injuries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Noel Harris is a sports reporter for The Sacramento Bee, with a focus on the Kings. He’s been in professional journalism for more than 18 years. His roles have included sports editor at The Modesto Bee and news editor at two smaller California newspapers, as well as online producer and copy editor.
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