The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 27, 2013

It's better to be safe ... | Players' well-being a priority in football

The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — High school football in our region took another hit this week.

Ferndale Area High School was supposed to host Meyersdale Area High School on Saturday afternoon, but the Yellow Jackets won’t have enough players to safely participate in the game.

This comes on the heels of last week’s game at Shade, which Ferndale had to forfeit after injuries limited the Yellow Jackets to just 11 healthy players by halftime, at which time they already trailed 26-0.

Ferndale Athletic Director Steve Clawson, coach Chip Ryan, athletic trainer Matt Lushko and Principal Brian McDermott made the decision on Monday to forfeit this week’s game to Meyersdale.

It couldn’t be an easy one, but it was the right one. Football has stressed player safety more and more over the past few years, especially when it comes to head injuries, and putting players’ well-being at risk simply doesn’t make sense. Numerous players were injured in the Shade game, including several with concussions.

Going into a game with 11 healthy and experienced players would be dangerous enough – a minor injury would cause the team to forfeit, thereby putting more pressure on a player who is hurt to stay in the game – but the Yellow Jackets likely would be forced to put in younger, less-experienced players. That’s a recipe for injury, especially since Meyersdale has emerged as one of the better teams in the Western Pennsylvania Athletic Conference this season.

“It’s just a shame that teams in the league are not able to honor the contracts that have been signed,” Meyersdale Athletic Director Craig Gindlesperger told our Cory Isenberg.

Gindlesperger said “teams” because Ferndale was the second WestPAC school to cancel a game because it could not field enough players. Rockwood canceled its entire schedule prior to the season opener because it didn’t have enough players. That left teams scrambling to fill holes on their schedules.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but we wonder if it’s going to become a common theme in our area. We have a number of small schools that were only dressing 20 or so players to begin with, even after they started using freshmen on the varsity squads in recent years.

The problem is not something that is limited to our area. High school football participation in Pennsylvania has dropped in each of the past five years, both in terms of individuals playing the sport and the number of schools fielding teams, according to the National Federation of High School Associations.

While at least some of that likely can be attributed to the state’s dwindling population base, we feel it also has something to do with the realization that football, when played incorrectly, can be a very dangerous sport. We applaud the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and other groups that have worked to make football safer, but there are some parents and students out there who feel it just isn’t worth the risk.

We can’t fault them for feeling that way, but we are still hopeful that the sport – which long ago surpassed baseball as our country’s true national pastime – can find a way to maintain its appeal while also being a safe extracurricular activity for our young people.

High school football – as with so many sports – can teach life lessons such as the importance of teamwork, dedication, commitment and sportsmanship. It can bring communities together and unite students who might not have much in common.

Those are all wonderful benefits, but ensuring that games are as safe as they can be must be the top priority.