Sioux City YMCA Drops Tackle Football: ‘We needed to no longer offer that program.’

But Does The Research Support Their Decision?

In what some consider a very bold and controversial move, The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA in Sioux City has decided to drop tackle football. As of June 1, the organization will be suspending it’s program, citing the danger of possible concussions and head injuries.

The decision was made earlier this month and the YMCA. The CEO says it wasn’t an easy one to make and didn’t expect it to be a popular decision. While the organization has received some opposition to the idea, he says it’s also been met with a lot of support.

YMCA Assistant Tackle Football Coach Eli Clements said, “It’s brutality and grace all at the same time. It’s this weird magical thing. It’s hard to describe but you get excited about it and it’s something you want to be a part of.”

For Clements, his love for the game of football started in 5th grade. He played in high school and even a few years in the semi-pros. Now he’s passing that love onto his son.
Clements said, “It teaches things you sometimes can’t learn in a classroom, which is a good thing; the whole teamwork aspect.”

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t worry about what could happen on the field.

“Head injuries scare the crap out of me,” said Clements.

That’s why he’s on board with the YMCA’s decision.

Clements said, “As much as I don’t like it. I agree with it 100 percent.”
After a decade, the Y in Sioux City will no longer offer tackle football.

YMCA CEO Kevin Engel-Cartie said, “We’ve been really following the research and the studies coming out and just finally came to the conclusion that for the safety of kids, we needed to no longer offer that program.”

The YMCA says they worry about the possibility of concussions and the problems repetitive head impacts can cause later in life.

“Granted some of this research is early, but I think it’s only the beginning,” said Engel-Cartie. “I think anytime we can make a better choice for families or help them make a better choice, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

But the head of another youth football program about an hour down the road says it’s important to give them that choice.

The President of South Dakota Junior Football Ken Sproles said, “We understand that there are parents that are concerned about it and trying to figure out exactly where do they stand on it. They love tackle, they want their kids to be involved in football, but they’re nervous about the contact so now maybe they’ll choose flag.”

Sproles says for them tackle football continues to make sense as long as it’s done in the right way.

“On a foundational level, if we as a league can train these kids to have proper technique before they get to the high school years, that’s an important thing,” Sproles said.

Sproles says he would hate for leagues to base their decision on the wrong information.

“I can see how leagues, if they’re really looking at the concussion factor of a pro player, could start to make decisions about getting rid of tackle football and saying this isn’t for youth. It’s just extremely important though to go ahead and look at the research and the data that applies to who you’re serving,” said Sproles.

Sproles says they not only look at the research regarding youth, they are a part of it. The organization has been working with Sanford Health for four to five seasons, measuring head impact exposure in about 20-7th and 8th grade players throughout the season, at practice and games.

Dr. Thayne Munce, who specializes in Sports Medicine at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls said, “Inside (the helmet), we have six impact sensors, and these impact sensors allow us to measure head impacts every time the helmet gets hit by another player or the ground.”

Munce says sensors measure how many times a player takes a hit, where, and how hard.

“About 50 percent of all impacts are less than 20 g but we do see impacts as high as 150 or even 175 g forces,” said Munce.

They’ve found that the hits middle school players take are just as hard, but they experience about half as many as high school players. College players receive around 1,000, and while the NFL is protective about their information, he suspects the pros experience even more than that.

“Over the course of a season, the typical middle school player gets hit in the head about 250 to 275 times per season and that breaks down to 8 to 12 impacts per game or practice,” Munce said.

Ultimately, what they are trying to find out is whether there’s a threshold that causes injury. So far, that’s been pretty illusive.

Munce said, “Someone could certainly suffer from two, three concussions, fully recover, and never suffer another concussion and be perfectly fine. Another person could have one concussion and that may be too many.”

Throughout four seasons, Munce says they’ve only seen six concussions.

“Middle school football players typically are very healthy over the course of the season even if they’ve suffered hundreds of impacts,” said Munce. “They typically don’t have impairments in balance, reaction time or anything that would be a marker for brain injury.”

He says about five to ten percent of middle and high school players can expect to get a concussion throughout the season.

“Parents should be aware and they should be informed, but I don’t think there’s any reason they need to be scared about putting their players in junior football at this stage,” Munce said.

Whether programs decide to make a change, the YMCA says they just want to spur discussion.

“Part of our decision to do this and to do it in sort of a public fashion was just to encourage the conversation,” said Engel-Cartie.

So far, it has made headlines in huddles across the nation.

The YMCA’s tackle football program consisted of kids in 3rd through 6th grade. Now that they’re discontinuing it, they will expand their flag football program from 1st through 4th graders to 1st through 6th graders.

With about 500 total kids in Sioux City’s spring and fall programs, Engel-Cartie says they are taking a financial hit by getting rid of tackle football, about $40,000. However, Sproles says some programs dissolve because it’s too expensive to manage them.