A serving of football, cookies and crumbs

From the Pressbox: Opinion and Insight

A look down the trenches in the fourth quarter of Friday's Cowbell Game.

Conversations with coaches at several schools, including some not in the immediate Perry area, have confirmed the growing trend. Sports writing friends from across the state I have recently spoken with only helped to color in a troubling picture: the number of boys playing high school football is down. In some places considerably.

I have numbers as high as 18 percent for Iowa (which seems a bit high) and National Federation of High School statistics that reveal 13 percent fewer young men are playing high school football compared to 2010 numbers.

There are likely a myriad of factors, but parental concerns for the safety of the sport surely ranks high on the list. And it absolutely should not.

Tackle football at the high school level is safer — far safer — than it was when I played in the early ’80s and is much safer than it was even 10 years ago. Improved equipment is part of the reason, as the helmets now provide a level of protection simply not available even a few years ago. At costs that can easily reach $500-600 apiece, it ought to be.

The emphasis on different tackling techniques now being taught and the strict enforcement of player safety-related rules are also making the game safer to play.

Highly publicized cases of brain damage among some former NFL players have created a scare well out of proportion to the danger. Your 18-year-old son is not going to experience the kind of collisions in a few years of playing tackle football that a handful of professional players — who competed for decades, through college and pro ranks — endure.

High school lads are certainly not going to be hit at the speed and with the force and by the size of players these unfortunate victims were. And they were repeatedly hit, scores and scores of times, over years and years.

I do not wish to belittle those who suffered and do not deny the game they chose to play was to blame. But those injured players all stopped playing at least a decade ago, and the game has changed by leaps since then.

As in any sport, especially a contact sport, the risk of injury exists. The bumps and bruises that accompany football will always be there, but the panicked reaction to concussion worries is overblown.

Schools across Iowa are struggling to fill rosters. Some more than others, of course, but as a whole the numbers are visibly lower. I hope this trend stops.
Perry has managed to scrape together a grade 3-4 youth team to play in the new Metro League. There remains room for more players, and I hope more join.

It remains a shame our community could not field a grade 5 or grade 6 team. Much smaller communities around us have no such trouble.

As far as I know, a maximum number of five freshmen have been at practice for Perry. I have been told only one young man will definitely go out for the team. There have to be at least 50 boys if not more in the class of 2023. Where are they?
The NFL season kicks off Thursday, with the college campaigns well underway.

I see the Saints beating the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, as Andy Reid once again comes up short in a big game.

As for Iowa State and Iowa? I see the winner of their Sept. 14 meeting finishing 9-3 and the loser 8-4. That winner will be the Hawkeyes.

Clemson will face, and defeat, Ohio State in one semifinal, with Alabama topping the incredible Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma (in a repeat of 2018) in the other. And so America will again be treated to the two best teams playing for the championship, which has gone back-and-forth and will again this year. Roll Tide.

Cookies to the Perry student section at Friday’s Cowbell Game in Jefferson. The students were out in force, and remained loud and supportive throughout the game, even after the outcome had long since been decided. Great job, gang!

Cookies to the Jayette volleyball team for two quick wins in their first matches of the year. No 1-21 start before win number two this year! Keep up the good work, ladies!

Crumbs to parents who fall into the trap of having their child “specialize” in a sport. Any college coach you talk to, in any sport, will tell you they are looking for well-rounded athletes who participate in multiple sports. Specialization enriches AAU and club coaches and officials and robs Johnny and Susie of a richer prep experience.

A baggie of crumbs to the boring, over-produced and self-aggrandizing NFL pregame shows. This will be yet another season in which I will go the entire year without watching a combined 10 minutes of the over-hype. Yech.

Finally, a shipment of cookies remains on hold for College Game Day. ESPN has hinted they might bring the show to Ames Sept. 14. I hope they do, as the exposure would be great for both teams. We will have to wait and see. Don’t hold your breath.


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