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Ben Smith

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Football coaches are putting safety first

– Something you should know today, Concerned Parent, as high school football sticks its head in the door again: No one in this room wants your boy to wind up with squash for a melon.

They don’t want him to be 40 years old and have “What’s your name?” become rocket science. They don’t want him to become best buds with Mr. CT Scan.

These are not the Neanderthals you’ve met in the movies (Paging Jon Voight in “Varsity Blues” … paging Jon Voight …), these men in the North Side cafeteria wearing their school colors on their backs. This is not 40 years ago, when the prevailing therapy for getting one’s bell rung was to rub some dirt on it. It’s not even 20 or 10 or five years ago.

“In this game, I think we’re trying to make it as safe as it can be,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman said Friday at the high school football media day at North Side. “That goes for every conference and every coach in here.”

In other words: This is the age of reason in football, or something like it. It’s the age of recognizing that the salvation of the sport rests on something more than just the mindless application of testosterone, because too much carnage has resulted from that, too many ex-football players winding up on slabs or in a perpetual fog as the price they paid for loving the game.

And so it wasn’t the lawyers or politicians or even the ruling body of high school athletics in Indiana, not long ago, that proposed regulations limiting what coaches would be able to ask players to do. It was the coaches themselves.

The Indiana Football Coaches Association’s proposal to the IHSAA asks for rule changes that could limit the number of times a coach can work with players in the summer when they’re wearing only shoulder pads and helmets. As it stands now, there are no limits on how much contact of that nature coaches can have.

Let me repeat: It’s the coaches who are asking for this.

And they’re doing it because every one of them understands how damaging it could be if they didn’t.

“Basically what we’re looking at is finding better ways and more safe ways to do it, because when people look in certain reports they read about football and; … well, I would be concerned as a parent too if that was all I heard,” Columbia City coach Randy Hudgins said. “So I think the fact the IHSAA has kind of given us that opportunity is a great thing, and is a positive thing for our game.”

Amen, Carroll coach Doug Dinan says.

“I completely support it. I think it’s a great thing,” he said. “The Indiana Football Coaches Association is being proactive in terms of legislating and trying to regulate the number of hours we’re allowed to have kids – trying not to have back-to-back two-a-days, the amount of padded time. All these things are good things.”

As are coaching and instruction, of course, by way of preventive care. By and large, the coaches either have been out in front of this issue in that area or are catching up to it rapidly. There may be still coaches out there who are telling kids to lower their heads and take on the tackler/ballcarrier noggin-to-noggin, but they’re rapidly vanishing.

“I think a lot of us are doing those things already,” Hudgins said.

Zolman agreed.

“I think technique is huge,” he said. “We’ve been teaching proper blocking and tackling for a long time. But at the same time, I guess, the awareness of the concussions and all the things that are involved have heightened that a bit.”

It could hardly be otherwise.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.