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Lawmaker eases proposal to limit tackling during practice

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 10:42 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — A state representative has relaxed her proposal to limit tackling during high school football practice, saying she'd be willing to allow it more than one day per week.

That's a change from the original bill put forth by Rep. Carol Sente, D-Lincolnshire. She said she hasn't settled on a final formula, but that after introducing the legislation, she talked to people in the sport and decided that more training time was necessary.

But some coaches and parents who came to a public forum Monday evening to discuss the bill were not placated. They said it was not the government's role to dictate what happens at practice, and that cutting back on coaches' ability to instruct their players on proper technique could put the teens in jeopardy.

“We think, as coaches, that passing this bill would put players at greater risk on Friday nights,” said Bob Pieper, head coach at Glenbrook North High School.

Sente's bill was inspired by her discussions with Dr. Larry Robbins, a Northbrook neurologist who was among the 60 or so people who came to the forum at Vernon Hills High School.

He said researchers have begun to find brain damage not only from big hits, but from hundreds of “sub-concussive” blows players accumulate during a season. Evidence of long-term harm is not clear, he acknowledged, but he said it was best to err on the side of caution.

“Once we mess with brain chemistry and disrupt it … Humpty Dumpty doesn't always magically go back together again,” he said.

But some coaches said improving education for players and parents would be the better way to guard against the potential harm of concussions. Coaches and athletic trainers already keep a keen eye on possible problems, they said, and hard-charging, ultra-physical practices are mostly a thing of the past.

“You hear about coaches going old school and hitting all day – it's not happening now,” said Bill Schermerhorn, who coaches youth football in Northbrook. “We're smarter than that.”

Sente, though, said she doubted that every coach in Illinois was running his team the right way, and that legislation is a valid way to address the issue. Bart Newman, a father and former football player from Vernon Hills, agreed.

He spoke about the head trauma he suffered as a player, and how he kept going even when he was in a fog. Players, he said, need to be protected from themselves.

“We're relying on young boys and young men to tell us when something's wrong, and I don't think they'll appreciate the long-term consequences of this head pain,” he said.

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