BISMARCK, N.D. - Fewer Bismarck Youth Football League (BYFL) teams are squaring off on the field this fall. As youth participation numbers are dwindling across team sports, fears over the safety of the players are especially impacting football leagues.
KFYR-TV employees Max Grossfeld, Ryan Farrell and Anthony Humes invited us out to a game for the BYFL team they're coaching to weigh the risks in this Homegrown with Hope.
They say it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that really matters. That's one reason parents cheering on the sidelines of a Bismarck Youth Football League game signed their kids up for a season, despite fears their children could be injured. How kids are playing the game of football has been shifting in recent years as more is learned about head injuries and the risk of concussions.
"I watch all the precautions they put into it with helmets and everything," Carla Arndt, whose sons play football, said. "They also do the 'heads up' technique."
Coaches with the league say this is not the reckless contact sport you might have played as a kid.
"When I was a kid, it was like lead with your head, stick your head in there, put your head in there. We don't do that anymore. We're very conscious of head injuries," said Bill Prokopyk, head coach with BYFL.
Researchers in some parts of the country are recording higher rates of football-related concussions among young players. In the Seattle area, 5 percent of five to 14-year-olds were diagnosed with one last season. It's part of a growing effort for coaches and trainers to better diagnose those injuries and prevent them. In Bismarck, the league is working to address the issue on every level.
"We pay close attention to that," said Prokopyk. "We certify our helmets by sending them off to manufacturers. We're constantly checking our inventory and we talk a lot about it."
With athletic trainers on-hand to constantly assess players, they say they're not going to let a player back on the field if there is even a slight concern for head injury.
"There are good ways to tackle and there are poor ways to tackle," Nadine Brew, Athletic Trainer with Sanford Health, said. "I think they're doing a good job trying to make it as safe as they possibly can."
Parents on the sidelines so those measures put their minds at ease. That's a win for the players with a love for playing the game.
"They could get just as much injured, if not more, jumping on the trampoline in the backyard," Arndt said.
Despite the safety measures, coaches say concern for injuries has reduced participation numbers so much so that they have two fewer teams playing in the league this year.