Game of risk

A sound that makes every fan, parent and coach cringe.

“I’m thinking kids, personally, they get involved way too young,” said Washington Football head coach Chad Stadem. “I mean my son is not going to play football till the seventh grade.”

During a single season, a youth football player has a 28 percent chance of being injured. A number that South Dakota Junior Football is doing everything in their power to reduce.

“All of our helmets are either brand new or recertified every other year,” said South Dakota Junior Football treasurer Larry Leveranz. “I think the oldest helmet in our inventory is probably five years old.”

But, a helmet can only do so much for injuries. That’s why South Dakota Junior Football has been a part of the Heads Up Football program since 2012.

“The name kind of says what it is,” said Leveranz “It’s to take the head out of the game. Focus more on shoulder pads. Tackling with the shoulder pads as opposed to some of the old school terminologies that some of us played under or even coached under in the past.”

Heads Up boasts the numbers. Their website shows that injuries are down by 57 percent in leagues run under the Heads Up umbrella. Even with the reduction in injuries, parents like Kevin and Jeanne Schneider still worry.

“There is always a concern about injuries, but the kid loves the game, and I’m not going to keep him from playing just because of that,” said Jeanne Schneider.

“Well first you’re nervous, you want to make sure that they’re OK,” said Kevin Schneider. “I know that it’s a contact sport. It’s a violent sport. It’s a sport that you do everything that you can to protect them and you just hope for the best.”

Cayden experienced an injury of his own this season, but Kevin and Jeanne took the steps to protect him in the future.

“Well, it’s never a good thing seeing your kid carted off the field,” said Jeanne Schneider. “He ended up having a contusion on his back. Had a late hit. Quite the bruise back there. You know as a parent, you probably do think the worst but luckily he was protected well enough, and we have since gotten him a back plate and he feels more confident out there now.”

Some parents don’t feel the same sentiment as the Schneider’s. The high school football scene is starting to feel the ripples from that opinion.

High school football numbers are down. Nationwide, there is nearly 26,000 less high schoolers playing football this year compared to last year. Washington High School has the largest enrollment in South Dakota, and they too are feeling the effects of high schoolers saying no to football.

“My first year here was the highest they’ve ever had here and that was about the 140 range,” said Stadem. “Now, we’re down about the 120-125.”

A trend that will affect Washington’s game plan in the years to come.

“We’ve had a couple of small classes,” said Stadem. “Our freshman class had about 30 kids this year, and so that will affect us in the future going forward unless we get another big class.”

The future is uncertain not just for Washington but for the sport of football. The game has changed. Tackling is taught differently. Quarterbacks are more protected. The whole concept is to make the game safer, and the future is in the hands of how the youth is taught.

“You know as far as South Dakota Junior Football goes, we’re gonna continue on the path we are to try to make the game as safe as possible for the kids,” said Leveranz. “Make the game as fun as it can be for the kids because that’s what they want.”