The recently concluded 2017 youth tackle football season will be the final one offered by the Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County, according to a news release from the organization Tuesday.
The club has offered the sport for “around 50 years,” Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County CEO Heather Powell said, and this fall the organization offered tackle football for youth in grades four through eight and had 271 participants.
“In recent years a focus on the lasting effects of head trauma has become a widely studied and discussed subject,” the release stated. “This organization has examined our ability to offer a high quality tackle football program that meets the safety standards we feel are imperative to protect youth. We also assessed the impact that continuing to run tackle football would have on this organization.
“Our determination is that we do not have the capacity to safely deliver this program and in order to attempt to do so would become cost prohibitive to the organization, so the 2017 season of tackle football was our last season of offering this program.”
The organization had to increase fees $100 this year in order to offset increased insurance costs for an extra rider to cover concussions, according to the release. The club said it expects the costs to insure tackle football will continue to rise “at a rate we are not able to sustain.”
Without the Boys & Girls Club offering tackle football, Powell said she was unaware of any Bellingham, Ferndale or Blaine organizations currently offering the sport for that age group, though a number of other organizations elsewhere in the county still do. Whatcom County middle schools also offer tackle football programs.
“This was a very difficult decision for us,” Powell said. “One that we’ve been in discussion for over a year.”
The effects of the decision likely will have “a huge effect” on county high school programs, Ferndale football coach Jamie Plenkovich said, as many county youth will not be exposed to the sport or receive a chance to develop skills.
“I think the positives of playing this game far out weight the risks, and it’s tough to see it go away at the younger levels,” Plenkovich said. “We’re going to have to take a look at how we can continue to get kids involved.”
Plenkovich stressed that he believes area coaches have worked hard to reduce the risk of traumatic head injuries at all levels.
“I think first and foremost – and I can’t evaluate costs of running their program – I think football has done a good job of trying to make the game safer,” he said. “There has been a lot of progress making it much safer with teaching blocking and tackling differently. In terms of head injuries, we’ve had very few in the past few years because of these improvements.”
The Boys & Girls Club will continue to offer flag football and volleyball during the fall season, and the release said it will explore other options.
“We understand community members may find this news upsetting and youth will likely wonder whether their opportunity to play a beloved sport is going to be available to them,” the release said.
Plenkovich said he hoped the Boys & Girls Club would consider expanding flag football so that youth could still develop some of the skills they would need for the high school game while being active.
“I think it’s definitely a pretty good loss,” Squalicum coach Nick Lucey. “I think it’s going to be pretty interesting to see what comes out of it.”