Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Youth Football Coaches Say Safety Has Improved

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Youth Football Coaches Say Safety Has Improved

Article excerpt

Safer helmets. Coaches trained to be attentive to head injuries. More limits on violent tackling.

The heads of North Jersey youth football leagues say such heightened safety measures have been in place for several years, as they reacted Wednesday to settlement of a lawsuit blaming a Wisconsin man's suicide on a brain injury stemming from youth football.

The Pop Warner organization acknowledged that it settled a federal lawsuit brought by a Wisconsin woman over the death of her 25-year-old son in 2012. The mother, Debra Pyka, was seeking $5 million. The terms of the settlement were not released.

Local coaches say there have been significant safety changes over the past six years or so, citing rule changes and other factors. They include intensive training for coaches, high-tech helmets that flex and provide more shock absorption, an emphasis on heads-up tackling and blocking to limit head impacts, limits on contact during practice and protocols that call for players to be removed from games if there is even a hint of a concussion.

Anthony Galella of Midland Park, president of the Bergen County Stars Pop Warner program, said he understands parents' concerns and that his league has taken "proactive measures" to prevent brain injuries. He said he has three children, including an 11-year-old daughter, who play Pop Warner football.

Each year, he said, he takes an eight-hour safety course as his program's designated player safety coach, a post Pop Warner requires local leagues to have to supervise the training of other coaches.

"I didn't want to delegate that job to anyone," said Galella. "The game of football is violent, and nothing can completely prevent concussions, but I think we've taken good measures to educate coaches."

Bert Zevzavadjian of Ramsey, the president of the Northern Bergen Junior Football League, said his organization recently required certified trainers to be at every game, similar to high schools and colleges. …

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