Weighty debate: Are some players too big for youth football?

Weighty debate: Are some players too big for youth football?
Dana Harrison (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Dana Harrison (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – It is a violent game played by some of our youngest athletes. Now, doctors are seeing a potentially dangerous trend.

Size differences among youth football players may be leading to an increased risk of head injury.

"It seems with each subsequent decade these kids are just getting bigger and faster and stronger," said Dr. Tad Seifert, the director of Norton Healthcare's Sports Concussion Program.

Seifert said concussion rates among youth football players are on the rise. A result, Seifert said, of the increasing size disparity among middle schoolers.

"That's the age group especially where you see such a disparity with size," Seifert said. "You'll see one 6th grader that's 90 pounds, and you'll see another 6th grader that's 190 pounds and yet they are playing against each other."

Sean Harrison, 14, a defensive end for the Adair County Middle School football team, suffered a concussion during a game earlier this season. It happened on a hit from the 6' tall, 245 pound opposing fullback who was also 14 years old.

Sean doesn't remember the play, only having his shoulder pads removed by trainers on the sidelines.

"Afterwards I was surprised that a middle schooler could do that much (damage,)" he said.

Seifert is calling on the Kentucky Middle School Football Association to adopt the same weight limits for ball carriers Catholic schools have.

"Having some safety measures at least at that centerpiece of the game itself, I think makes some sense," Seifert said.

Meanwhile, the Harrison family said they know, first hand, what can happen when players of mismatched size, collide.

Sean is on the injured list for a month after suffering a concussion.

"There's more kids that are going to get hurt," said Sean's mom, Dana Harrison. "And my fear is they are going to get hurt worse."

Dana Harrison was shocked an 8th grader could be that big. Now she wants changes to the rules and more protection for smaller players. She's worried other middle schoolers could also be at risk.

"It's not only this boy, it's not what it's about," Harrison said. "It's about big players and older players being with younger children."

Right now, there are no weight limits in Kentucky's public middle school football leagues. By contrast, Catholic middle schools do place some weight restrictions on football players prohibiting anyone over 135 pounds from carrying the ball, or even lining up in the backfield. The CSAA, and many recreational leagues, put an "X" on the helmet of players who are over the weight limit so officials know.

Seifert is calling on the Kentucky Middle School Football Association to adopt the same weight limits for ball carriers Catholic schools have.

"Having some safety measures at least at that centerpiece of the game itself, I think makes some sense," Seifert said.

Middle School Football Association Board member Dan Seum said they recently adopted age limits to prevent players from repeating grades to have a size advantage. But he does not think weight limits are necessary.

"It's a tough sport," Seum said. "And we're doing everything we can to make it safer. But you gotta understand in youth sports they're not hitting as hard. I mean they're still kids. I just would have a tough time telling a kid you're too big to play a position, in football."

Sean Harrison said it didn't feel like he was playing against a kid. Now he's out for a month recovering from his concussion. His mom worries about who will be next.

"There's more kids that are going to get hurt," Dana Harrison said. "And my fear is they are going to get hurt worse."

The family of the 8th grader who made the hit that caused Sean Harrison's concussion declined comment.

Alan Popadines, national youth football scouting director and football editor for Youth1 Media, LLC, which operates a website that tracks top youth athletes, said national recreational sports organizations like Pop Warner Football and American Youth Football give parents the option of middle school leagues with or without weight restrictions so they have options.

"That's happening all over the country," Popadines said, adding he is not a fan of weight restricted leagues because many of those same kids will be competing at the high school level within a year anyway.

Popadines said those recreational leagues don't have a large foot print in Kentucky middle school football, because of the prevalence of public school and Catholic school leagues.

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