Football without the Hits Ex-NFL Player Launches League to Add to Choices of No-Contact Football for Kids

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Football without the Hits Ex-NFL Player Launches League to Add to Choices of No-Contact Football for Kids


Byline: Jamie Sotonoff jsotonoff@dailyherald.com By Jamie Sotonoff jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

Jim Schwantz's career centered on tackle football. He played in the NFL for nearly a decade, then worked as a Chicago Bears radio broadcaster.

Now Schwantz, who also is the mayor of Palatine, is launching a new flag football league for kids, feeding a growing demand for the less-intense version of the sport.

The new [URL]Northwest Flag Football League;http://nwffl.org/[/URL], for third-through sixth-graders -- like similar leagues around the suburbs -- will fill a void for younger kids who aren't ready for tackle football, while also appealing to parents concerned about concussions in tackle games, Schwantz said.

The idea is to encourage children to play football, regardless of whether it's flag or tackle, Schwantz said. The league will prepare boys for seventh-grade tackle football by teaching them fundamentals, including how to tackle and block properly, and improving their speed and athleticism.

"I'm a huge proponent of (tackle football). ... I owe everything I have to the sport," said Schwantz, who now coaches his eighth-grade son's tackle team. "But there are a bunch of kids that tackle is their only option, and they're not ready, so they give up football."

In some suburbs, including Palatine and Arlington Heights, flag football is not available for boys in grades three and up or who weigh more than 80 pounds. They either must play tackle, or drive to another suburb's flag program.

"Now, if (after second grade), you want to stick around and continue to play football, you can play flag football," Schwantz said. "And if there's any hesitation or concern regarding concussions at a young age, this is for them."

Flag football leagues for this age group aren't unique -- there are thriving leagues in Batavia and Barrington, among other places -- but this new league signals a growing interest in flag football in the suburbs.

Yet, enrollment remains stable in youth tackle football programs, according to league leaders in Elgin and Schaumburg.

"Our flag numbers are up, and our tackle numbers have been steady, too. We've been up by a dozen (tackle) players every year for the past few years," said Tony D'Orazio, the Schaumburg Athletic Association's head football commissioner.

The economy and competing activities typically influence enrollment, but coaches say the growing interest in flag football is fueled, in part, by heightened awareness among parents about concussions in tackle football.

The issue has been in the spotlight recently and is the subject of much debate. In June, more than 2,000 former players filed a lawsuit against the NFL because of health problems from their on-field head injuries including concussions. A Sports Illustrated cover story last month detailed the dementia battle facing former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon because of head trauma he suffered during his football career. …

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