Should full-contact football practice be limited in Virginia high schools?

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — School may soon be out for summer, but football coaches are already planning for fall.

Two states recently moved to drastically limit contact in practice. It got 8News curious about what area coaches are doing to keep your kids safe.

8News found a football coach at Spring Run Elementary School in Chesterfield who plans to take extra precautions during practice next season. He plans to use something called “The Shadowman.” It’s an inflatable opponent and will allow his team to practice and perfect tackling techniques without touching their teammates.

“It’s very simple to pump it up,” Allen Bayuk explained while demonstrating the device. “ln less than a minute you can have a tackling unit.”

Bayuk, who’s also a teacher and parent, worries about his kids getting hurt.

“The big concern is collisions and concussions,” he said. “There’s always that worry in the back of your mind when a collision happens or a pile-up on the field.”

The human-shaped Shadowman is marked with tackle zones. Each unit can run about $699, but it gives him a piece of mind. 

“It’s less player and player collisions,” he stresses.  

He tells us his team can train, tackle,  build confidence and most importantly re-run drills without the repeated hard hits.  

“Anything that will help an athlete improve their technique, anything that will have them get better without — especially in football — having that player-on-player collision that is so important,” Bayuk said.

While the Chesterfield coach is taking extra precautions for his elementary school team, 8News has learned the Virginia High School League (VHSL) allows up to 90 minutes a week of full contact football practice.

“Our mandate is to reduce contact on the practice field. That is the quickest and easiest way to reduce injury,” says Terry O’Neil, the founder of ‘Practice Like Pros,’ a non-profit driving a campaign to reduce injuries in youth football.  

‘Practice like Pro’s has picked up some big endorsements from some big stars in football like NFL Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Warren Moon and former NFL football coach Dick Vermeil. They believe 90 minutes a week of full-contact football practice is too much.

Some states are now joining their team on this and calling an audible. Michigan and New Jersey are changing practice play.

“They’ve seen the light in NJ and Michigan,” says O’Neil.

The organization that governs Michigan high school athletes just voted to trim the time allowed for full contact football practice from 90 minutes a week to just 30 minutes per week. New Jersey recently cut full-contact practice to just 15 minutes a week.

“In the NFL there’s virtually no full contact in the regular season,” explains O’Neil.

The pros and some college teams often use what’s called ‘thud tackling,’ meaning players go full speed until initial contact, then back away.

Studies show only 4 percent of NFL concussions happen on the practice field while that number stands at 58 percent for high school athletes.

There have been studies, too, that show a reduction in contact time works. In 2015, The University of Wisconsin published results of the state’s own cut in full-contact football practice. Wisconsin high schools dropped full-contact practice to 60 minutes a week from the third week of the season on.

“Wisconsin high school football cut its concussions by more than half,” O’Neil said.

8News reached out to the VHSL they were not aware of the changes made in Michigan and New Jersey but we were was told their sports medicine committee will look at it. 

We also checked with the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISSA) and they tell us they follow the lead of the VHSL. They do tell 8News that the VHSL’s Sports Medicine Committee strongly recommends full contact be allowed in no more than two-to-three practices per week and limiting full-contact on consecutive days.

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