PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — More parents are keeping their kids out of football over fear of brain injuries but the leaders of a youth football program in Aloha say they’ve taken steps to make the sport safer.
Sam Telesa recently graduated from Aloha High School. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound football player is heading to Georgetown University where he was awarded a football scholarship.
“I’m the first one in my family to go to college and it’s more than words can express,” Telesa said.
While he had good grades, Telesa’s college plan was determined by football. He’s also been helping to mentor Aloha Youth Football — a team his younger brother plays for.
The team’s coach, Thaddius “Tad” Kwasnik, said the program offers a family-like atmosphere some of the players thrive on.
“No matter if a kid can afford to play or not, we allow them to play because some of them need that structure,” Kwasnik said. “Some of them don’t even have a structured home life.”
Kwasnik said their numbers have dropped dramatically over recent years as parents worry about the risk of concussions, necessitating even more fundraising to make sure kids can play.
“I think right now there’s such an attack on football overall,” Kwasnik said. “I don’t think the public is aware of all the changes that are going on in football.”
Kwasnik said those changes include refurbished helmets with more padding and protection. They’ve shortened the field for certain age levels and changed their coaching methods — all in an attempt to prevent head injuries.
But despite the safety-minded changes, Aloha’s program has taken a big hit. Fewer players mean less money to pay for field usage, uniforms and updated helmets and transportation, despite the team working to raise money with things like rummage sales.
Telesa, who believes football changed his life for the better, hopes the sport will do the same for his little brother. He said coaches are teaching players to “leave the head out of the tackle” and, as a result, they’ve seen far fewer concussions even in high school programs.
“We’ve done a better job at discussing tackling procedures and stuff like that,” said Telesa.
Aloha Youth Football was also one of 9 in the country chosen to take part in a pilot rookie program for USA Football, which is designed to promote player safety, fun and education.