Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

SPORTING LIFE: West Alabama Youth Football Association Teams Up with NFL for Safety

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

SPORTING LIFE: West Alabama Youth Football Association Teams Up with NFL for Safety

Article excerpt

For the past 15 years as its president, Burkles Davis has helped lead the West Alabama Youth Football Association into a thriving league, consisting of 16 teams, each with its own subsystem of four age divisions.

Quality football has been a driving force behind Davis's work to build the organization and make it a success. But his love for the game is not surpassed by his concern for the children who play it. WAYFA's constitution and bylaws, in fact, list athletics fourth among its goals, behind scholarship, leadership and sportsmanship.

"One of the biggest points we want to get across is for the parents to understand we are interested in the kids, not only with them playing football but with them emotionally and educationally," said Davis.

With kids best in mind, WAYFA is taking steps to ensure the safety now, and in their future, for its 1,600 football players and 700-800 cheerleaders.

The association, because of size and success, was selected by USA Football to participate in the NFL's Heads Up Initiative. The NFL introduced the youth initiative in 2012 as a way to teach players, early on, how to, when tackling, keep their heads up and lead with their shoulders and wrap up the opponent as opposed to diving, head- first, into a player. The method, it believes, may result in fewer concussions and help bring kids back to the game as parents, because of their concern for head injuries, appear to be holding kids out of playing football.

"Some of the top youth football programs from all fifty states were invited to a conference put on by the NFL in conjunction with USA Football," Davis said. "There is a growing decline in youth football as far as participation in the last three or four years, and they wanted to get the larger programs together and talk about it. And they told us they wanted to put together a program where they will train the people in our programs in concussions, heat and hydration, and heads-up tackling."

Davis and WAYFA vice president Ronnie Garner attended the conference in Indianapolis in February. Their travel and lodging were paid for by the NFL. At the three-day conference, they were exposed not only to ways to make the game safer for the children involved but also to marquee speakers, including retired NFL head coach Tony Dungy, NCAA executive director of regulatory affairs and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck's father, Oliver Luck, as well as others, like former NFL player-turned-ESPN Radio co-host Mike Golic.

"They all talked about different subjects. Tony Dungy was probably the most inspiring. I could sit and listen to him talk all day," said Davis of the experience.

On June 6, at Hillcrest High School, Davis and Garner will summon the leaders and coaches, including a person from each team deemed its player safety coach, from each of its teams as well as players' parents for a one-day, all-day, safety clinic, led by USA Football and the NFL's representatives. …

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