Youth tackle football benched in Union Co.

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UNION COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – An online petition is growing after Union County leaders voted to end youth tackle football.

“As a community I think we all felt we were just left out of the decision,” said parent Missy Wilkes who created the petition.

The Union County Recreation Department has a youth football league for a fee serving kids ages 5 to 12.

Union County Supervisor Frank Hart tells 7News council members voted this week to move away from youth tackle football, and towards flag football, out of concern for head injuries after advice from the rec department.

“Maybe with the younger kids – get rid of the tackle just to start with fundamentals for them – and then take them up to tackle, but I think before they get to Sims [Middle School] they should know blocking and tackling,” said Youth Football Coach Patrick Kelley.

Hart said many communities are making this change to end youth tackle football because flag football has less direct contact.

“I completely understand that but at the same time there’s no definitive evidence of that,” Wilkes said. “There are experts who say you can get just as many head injuries playing soccer as from playing football so what do you do from there? Shut down all sports?”

CBS News reports that Neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee released a study that found children “who start playing tackle football before age 12 will, on average, develop cognitive and emotional symptoms associated with CTE much earlier than those who start later.”

Folks opposing council’s move say the majority of kids who end up playing at the high school level in Union County started playing youth tackle football.

“At that age it’s not like they’re big boys,” Wilkes said. “They’re small in stature and when they tackle, the impact is not that great.”

Tyler Shugart coaches youth football in Union and is General Manager for Fox Sports 1400AM 98.3 FM.

“The first thing we do is teach them how to tackle correctly so they don’t get a head injury or a neck injury,” said Shugart. “Moving to flag football won’t prevent injuries. They’re still going to hit each other. They’re still going to fall. They have no pads, no helmets. The best way to prevent injuries is to teach correctly the proper techniques for tackling.”

Opponents to the decision said it will disappoint a lot of children.

“In Union, there’s not a whole lot to do,” said Kelley, adding a sport they love can keep kids out of trouble. “A lot of kids don’t get outside and play. They want to be on video games so this is also exercise.”

The Union County supervisor said they’re working to set up a meeting next week with further discussions before making a final decision.

Read petition here.

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