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Trying to tackle a problem
Pop Warner passed new rules to limit contact, will NCRC follow?
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Trepidation about the safety of football is on the rise with about 2,000 former professional players combining to file a head-trauma lawsuit against the NFL.

The question has been around for a while regarding the safety of a sport which requires tackling and combative defense. However, with the suit bringing public and media attention, there are now more efforts to try to make the country's most popular sport a safe one for future players.

That effort took a major step forward as the most well-known youth league adopted new rules for its practices and the protection of its players.

Pop Warner is the largest youth football, cheer and dance organization in the world with approximately 425,000 young people from ages 5 to 16 years old actively participating, and on Tuesday added two new rules.

The first one says there is to be no full speed head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players line up more than three yards apart. In high school, college and pro football practices tackling drills sometimes require two players meeting in the middle of a circle of their peers before meeting in a head-to-head hit. This tackling drill will no longer be allowed in the youth league.

The second new rule says that the amount of contact at each practice will be reduced to a maximum of 1/3 of the practice time. According to Pop Warner's website the context of contact means any drill or scrimmage in which drills and scrimmages feature down line vs. down line full-speed drills.

Both of the aforementioned rules will prevent players from having collisions during the week, and hopefully limit the amount of stress brought to the head and neck region.

The Newton County Recreation Commission already limits practices with regulations due to heat with players starting out with just helmets and a mouth piece for the first couple of weeks of practice, and has not yet made any changes to correspond with Pop Warner's new rules.

However, registration is just under way for the 2012 fall season and a coaches meeting isn't scheduled until the fall.

"We pretty well leave that up to the coaches when they go into the coaches meeting," said Tommy Hailey, Newton County Recreation Department Director. "We let them have any input on things other than what's mandated."

While Hailey won't push for any rule changes within Newton's youth football league, he does see how it could be beneficial.

"I don't know how anybody can say something that's going to be for a safety factor is going to hurt a sport," Hailey said. "The first thing we need to be concerned with is the safety of it. If there is an indication that concussions start at an early age than I think you need to take measures because there's more to life than just a football game."

While the positives of limited contact are obvious for health reasons, there could also be negative effects on the game of football. With the teaching of the fundamentals of tackling being cut down at an early age, the game could deteriorate years down the road.

"I think a lot of it is good but it's a sport that everybody knows when they get into it," Eastside football coach Rick Hurst said. "The chances are eventually it's going to turn into touch football.

"I understand you have to be careful, that you want to be careful. But the equipment is out there and has been proven it's working."

Another factor in the pending lawsuits filed on the NFL could also be the amount of tackling taking place. The level of practices and the amount of hits in the NFL are much higher than that in youth leagues, high school and even college football.

That's another reason Hurst is skeptical about any possible drastic rule changes.

"Those guys are at the top of their game," Hurst said. "I think a lot of it is overblown. People get suit happy and they take off with it. It's unfortunate, and I'm kind of leery what it will do to the game. If you take away that aspect of the game then what's left.

"It's a tough man's sport; it's not for everybody, and I think it's good. I don't want to see it get overblown because of some instances having been blown out of proportion."

Hailey feels that, that the increased attention may not blow it out of proportion, but will facilitate more change.

"Sometimes when they (Pop Warner) step up and take measures, it seems like the other ones follow suit and make a change," Hailey said.