In a statement released right before the new year, Somerville (MA) Recreation announced they'll be changing its youth tackle football program (grades 1-8) to flag football.
“Particularly over the past few years, the rise in injuries among young people playing contact football, both in game situations and during regular practices, demonstrates a need for us to reevaluate the programs we offer to our youngest residents,” said Jill Lathan, Director of Recreation and Youth, via the city's website.
According to a report in the Somerville Journal, the youth football program has seen a two-thirds decrease in participation, going from 100 members to 35 over the past year.
The rise in injuries among young people playing contact football…demonstrates a need for us to reevaluate the programs we offer to our youngest residents.
While Lathan claims parents weren't directly pulling their kids over concussion fears, the move to flag football "is about us being aware of the national discussion and being aware of the potential concerns.”
Meanwhile, the Somerville Pop Warner program continues to grow membership, and its treasurer, Beverly Schwartz, says the city's decision has nothing to do with injury concerns.
The rec program is city-funded through American Youth Football – a competitor of Pop Warner – and the two organizations have been at odds since the creation of the AYF program in 2013, with one of the biggest feuds stemming from use of city-owned fields.
“I think it was face-saving. They should never have created this program in the first place. It did not thrive,” Schwartz told the Somerville Journal. “Do I think concussions had anything to do with the reason why Somerville Youth Football had a declining enrollment? No I do not, because Somerville Pop Warner has been growing.”
According to a statement by Lathan, parents are in talks to privatize the AYF program and provide a full contact alternative to Pop Warner.
“Somerville Recreation’s equipment rental program continues to provide support and assistance to community athletics, including Pop Warner, youth soccer and youth softball, among others,” said Lathan. “While it is our understanding that a private group may opt to pick up and support a youth football program, at this time the city will not continue to fully fund a program, particularly with declining enrollment and an increasing risk of injury to the players.”