The hot wings are flying out of the kitchen, cold beverages hustled to tables and those replica jerseys that have been on ice since Super Bowl 50 are out of the closet.
Yes – football is back.
If there’s any question that football is the national pastime, ask yourself: Who won the 2015 World Series? Took you a minute, didn’t it?
We have three stories about football this week, including one about Fort Mill High’s game at Lancaster (sorry Nation Ford and Indian Land fans; Your games were played after our holiday-shortened print edition deadline. You can read about your teams at fortmilltimes.com). Of the remaining two, one story is about how much local bars and restaurants look forward to football season because the games are so good for business.
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The other one is on page 1A and it follows up on an earlier story we ran about Tega Cay Parks and Recreation Director Joey Belthen’s decision to drop tackle football from the city’s youth sports program in favor of flag football. That move was made after much soul-searching over the potential long-term health implications of playing tackle football, Blethen said. Specifically, Blethen, like a growing number of medical professionals, parents, athletic program directors, coaches, players and former players, is concerned over traumatic brain injuries.
We all love the game of football, but cranial impact and concussions are a reality of the full-contact version and there’s mounting evidence and media reports connecting tackle football to brain damage. Blethen decided he didn’t want to risk being responsible for any of the kids in the city’s program or the kids they compete against suffering a catastrophic injury.
Who can blame him?
No one should take this as a condemnation of young kids playing tackle football. The town of Fort Mill stills offers a youth program and judging by the turnout of players – nearly 200 – residents support it. That’s for town leaders, parents and the players to decide for themselves. However, Blethen and Tega Cay took a stand to error on the side of caution and he should be applauded for it.
The way we see it, flag football still allows kids with developing, more fragile bodies the opportunity to learn all of the other fundamentals of the game while enjoying all the benefits of teamwork, camaraderie and athletic competition. For those players who enjoy the game, the opportunity will come in a few years to play tackle football. At that point they will have been exposed to the running, cutting, leaping and mental aspects of the game. Budding quarterbacks will develop their young arms without taking the pounding traditionally reserved for the signal callers.
There’s another benefit: Flag football costs less. Equipment for tackle football could run parents up to $250 a season. All that’s required for flag players is a mouth guard that costs around $10 (cleats are recommended, but optional).
It took courage for Blethen to make the change, but instead of criticism, the community responded with enthusiasm. More than 280 kids are playing flag football in Tega Cay this fall. Last year, there were 195. We think he could be on to something.