Private schools to offer tackle/flag football hybrid

Seeking to address dwindling participation numbers and hoping to quell parental fears about the safety of football, the Independent Metro Athletic Conference (IMAC) held a panel discussion on Feb. 29 to introduce some significant changes to the way football is offered by member schools.

Six private schools – Blake, Breck, Minnehaha Academy, Mounds Park Academy, Providence Academy and St. Paul Academy and Summit School – make up the IMAC. All six are pre-K through 12 institutions. Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, conference schools will offer flag football only to students in grades five and six, and a modified “hybrid” of tackle and flag football in grades seven and eight.

Players can begin playing tackle football in ninth grade.

“What we see on the playgrounds is that, when the kids get the chance, they’re always playing some sort of football,” Providence Academy Activities Director Kurt Jaeger said. “It’s a great game. We wanted use that enthusiasm.”

Jaeger said the change was spurred during a meeting of school representatives, athletic directors and coaches to discuss the future of football. Numbers at all of the schools had dropped so far that four of them – Blake, Minnehaha, Mounds Park and St. Paul Academy – combined to form a cooperative last season. That team, the SMB Wolfpack, finished the regular season undefeated and was so successful that league members felt it necessary to ensure football’s future.

“We thought it was important to get kids interested from the bottom up,” Jaeger said.

Conference representatives felt flag football will not only allow young athletes to enjoy the sport without incurring the risk of collisions but that it would be more inclusionary for athletes of all sizes by eliminating the weight restrictions in common in youth football.

“Bigger kids can play all positions if they’re not be tackled to the ground. Littler kids can play all positions if they’re not being tackled to the ground,” Jaeger said. “And at the same time, in seventh and eighth grades, we can use that time to teach kids how to tackle properly.”

Members of the panel convened to discuss football, and contact sports in general, were:

  • Dr. Uzma Samadani, a neurosurgeon and brain injury researcher at Hennepin County Medical Center and co-author of “The Football Decision: An Exploration Into Every Parent’s Decision Whether or Not to Let a Child Play Contact Sports.”
  • Edward Kim, Breck head of school.
  • Derek Asche, head football coach at Providence Academy.
  • Abby Turbes, a full-time athletic trainer at Blake contracted through Twin Cities Orthopedics.
  • Dr. Andrew Arthur, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with a subspecialty certification in sports medicine and former three-sport athlete at Blake.
  • Dr. James Wolpert, a pediatric urologist for Pediatric Surgical Associates and father of four sons who were student-athletes at Minnehaha Academy.

Panel members discussed the problems associated with football and agreed there are risks but that those risks are generally no greater than risks associated with other sports.

Members of the panel also spoke in favor of the IMAC’s proposed changes and emphasized that the advantages to playing football often outweigh the risks.

“The trainer [Abby Turbes] said that, although it’s a small sample size since she’s only in her second year, football is fourth on the list where they see the most concussions per capita,” Jaeger said. “I think girls’ soccer was second.”

Jaeger added that one of the benefits of football is the positive community environment surrounding a football game.

“We don’t have a better-attended sport than football,” Jaeger said. “If possible, we’d like to play all of these football games on Friday. We’d like to make it a big day for football for all levels.”

Jaeger said the IMAC reached out to the Minnesota State High School League to inform the league about the changes and that non-IMAC schools have already made inquiries about joining them.

The meeting was webcast and archived on the IMAC website and be viewed at by Jim Paulsen

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)