This was a big weekend in Texas.
Some might even call it a state holiday: the state high school football season kick-off. But these Friday night lights shine as more folks are questioning the safety of the game.
On Wednesday, a junior varsity player in Round Rock was paralyzed from the waist down after a helmet-on-helmet collision with another player. In Louisiana on Friday, a player died from a broken neck after taking a hit during a punt return.
How does a sport loved by millions – from pee-wee up to the big leagues – survive despite the risks?
Bryan Partee, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Big Pines in East Texas, says there are alternatives. Partee was recently featured in an article from The New York Times about his club’s expansion of youth flag football leagues.
Partee – both the son of an NFL player and a father of a child who plays football – says he’s trying to offer safer alternatives to tackle football for kids.
“Friday Night Lights is a little bit more like a documentary than it is a movie in East Texas. People love their football,” Partee says. “We know that you’re not going to get rid of football, so we have two alternatives that we do.”
The first option: 7-on-7.
“It’s non-contact. It’s quick. It allows both boys and girls to play,” he says. “It’s touch but it allows them to learn the plays. It allows them to still get the running around, the exercise. That’s huge. It’s a really big growing sport in our area.”
The second option: controlled tackle football.
Partee says the club puts safety controls on the game, unlike kids’ leagues who may not teach them how to tackle safely and properly – or coaches who insist kids ‘man up,’ instead of making sure kids take frequent breaks to stay hydrated in the Texas heat.
“These are 8-year-olds. Eight-year-olds don’t need to ‘man up’,” Partee says. “We take a very cautious approach.”