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Player safety at center of "Heads Up Football"

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 4, 2013 at 7:58 pm •  Published: May 4, 2013

"I had my share of concussions," said Finneran, now an Atlanta sports talk radio co-host. "I played with guys who were half knocked out, and I probably did it, too. Be aware, be involved. Guys think they're warriors."

Wire said he knew the risks of football, but sometimes played when he shouldn't have.

"Toughness is like a badge of honor, right?" Wire told youth officials. "I think one of the best ways that we can make this movement happen is to get kids involved. Help them understand that a head injury is different than any other injury.

"Get your kids to look at teammates as family, and get them helping. ... 'Hey coach, we need to check out Johnny.'"

Football-mad Georgia is not among states that have shown a significant drop in high school football participation.

California Interscholastic Federation data showed 103,088 playing high school football last fall versus 107,916 in 2007 — a 4 percent drop. Participation was down 6.9 percent last fall in Michigan, and 3.5 percent in Maryland according to different reports.

Even with McKay representing the NFL, and several dozen youth commissioners representing several hundred leagues around Georgia, a man in the middle sounded perhaps the loudest alarm.

Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association — which has more than 400 football-playing schools — said, "those in athletics have got to change the culture of our sport or we're going to lose our sport ... people are going to come in and make changes and ruin the sport."

On April 23, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed into law the, "Return to Play" act requiring schools to provide to parents information on concussions and establish protocols for students with head injuries. Many states have similar legislation.

Ralph Clinton, president of the North Metro Football League that is comprised of about two dozen youth organizations and more than 100 teams on the north side of Atlanta, said that this summer every NMFL will adopt the, "Heads Up Football" program.

"Last year we had over 1,600 kids," Clinton said. "The Heads Up Football is very important to us because of the tackling. We strive to teach fundamentals. Heads Up is a good resource for teaching those coaches how to teach those kids how to play football."

Swearngin, the GHSA czar, summarized: "It's risk minimization. We cannot guarantee safety, but we can certainly take steps to reduce risk."