Archive for December, 2015

LEGAL CONCERNS: Are We Witnessing the End of Pop Warner Football?

Pop Warner Football has been an American tradition since at least the early 1950’s. Literally millions of kids and several generations of young athletes have learned how to play and enjoy tackle football from playing Pop Warner ball.

But as the scene shifts these days in sports, we may see the end of Pop Warner football soon. Let me explain why.

In 2011, a 13-year-old Pop Warner football player attempted to make a tackle, and he tried to do so by leading with his helmet. Sadly, the boy broke his neck on the play, and he’s now a quadriplegic.  A major lawsuit ensued, brought by the injured boy’s family against Pop Warner. As you might imagine, his medical bills for the rest of his life are going to be astronomical.

The thrust of the lawsuit is that the Pop Warner youth coaches really weren’t trained as to how to teach proper tackling techniques to younger kids. Or as was revealed in this case, the youth coaches hadn’t been paying attention to the coaching videotapes that Pop Warner provides. And that, of course, is most discouraging, to say the least.

Remember that most Pop Warner coaches do something entirely else for a living than coach kids in sports. That being said, it’s fully expected that the coaches will view the training tapes and other coaching materials so that the coaches can teach kids the basics and fundamentals of how to play the game. In this case, it was admitted that the coaches had not done their homework.


Even worse, it turns out that the Pop Warner organization only carries $ 2 million in insurance liability coverage. The boy’s medical bills are going to start around $10 million and will go up. That’s not good news for Pop Warner and its insurance carrier. Yes, they may settle out of court with this young man, but this kind of financial stress is not going to bode well for the long-time football organization. Pop Warner also is looking at a lawsuit from the family of a deceased 25-year-old who killed himself. His family is claiming that the boy became seriously depressed from suffering too many concussions when he played Pop Warner ball. An autopsy revealed a good deal of CTE in the man’s brain.

In addition, as enrollment in youth football has declined suddenly in recent years, it turns out that Pop Warner as an organization has been losing money.  That’s not good news either.

What will happen to Pop Warner? It’s still too early to say. But bear in mind that this an outfit that has simply tried to bring fun into the lives of millions of young football players, and of course, the organization is not about generating profit. Yes, of course, these individuals who have brought suit against Pop Warner have every right to do so.

But as our society continues to be increasingly litigious, it’s just a matter of time before more and more lawsuits are filed against other youth sports organizations. And that could spell the end of these “for fun” operations.





SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: New Jersey Divides Public HS Football from Non-Public Programs

The issue of whether public high schools should compete against non-public high schools (meaning private or parochial schools) has been a hot button issue for a long time, and in a lot of different states.

But in New Jersey, this has been a point of contention for several years now, especially in the area of HS football. Over the last decade or so, some of the northern non-public HS football programs have become real powerhouses. I’m talking specifically about schools like Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s, and Don Bosco. And there are others as well.

Please note that there’s nothing wrong about this. Nor is it illegal. These schools have long recognized that, unlike public HS football teams which are restricted to just those students who live within that school’s district, the non-public schools can and do open their doors to kids from all over. Not just nearby, but some of these student-athletes commute a long distance on a daily basis. Others even come in from neighboring states.

What’s the attraction? Well, for starters, these powerhouse programs have developed into a great showcase for top college coaches, who are eager to scout these top athletes. And of course, as these programs grow in stature and in financial ways, they are able to schedule and compete against other top non-public schools from around the country. I covered the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, a few weeks ago in this space, and IMG is one of the premier HS football teams in the country. And they play against schools like St. Joe’s and Bergen Catholic.

Meanwhile, as for the public HS programs, they keep chugging along, and doing their best against these powerhouse programs, as they often appear on their schedule. You can just imagine if you were a top player for a public school, and when your team gets trounced by a top non-public school, that coach might suggest you ought to consider your talents to a better program….like his.

Now, for public HS coaches, for the most part they have been fed up by this growing disparity. I mean, every athlete and coach wants to compete on a level playing field. But clearly when one team is stacked with great talent from all over, the other team is quickly overwhelmed and demoralized.


Two weeks ago, the athletic directors of NJ made history. They passed a strong resolution to separate the non-public football teams from playing the public teams. The measure still has to be affirmed by the Commissioner of Education in NJ, but for me, as an outsider, this just seems like a common sense move.

Let the powerhouse programs play each other. Let the public schools play against the other public schools. There’s no need to try and make a case that this is unfair or wrong. And yes, I recognize that, every so often, a public school football team will upset a powerhouse private school.

But for the most part, as one public HS coach said, “Look, those schools are apples. My school is orange.”

And that’s correct. Over the long haul, there’s no way that growing non-public football programs are ever going to be equal with the local public schools. In this day and age of increased competition and elite programs, kids will have to decide whether they want to enroll in a powerhouse program and run the risk of being a third or fourth stringer and rarely playing. Or would they have more fun playing at the local public HS where they can be a starter and maybe even a star.

Again, this is HS football. Not college ball. To me, it’s a no-brainer. The fun still resides in playing in the games. Play for your local HS team. And remember, if you really do become a star, you can always go on and play in college.

Meanwhile, as one caller asked, “If this is being done in football, why not continue the concept with other sports in NJ, like basketball and baseball?”

Good question. And yes, it’s also a good idea.

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why It’s Becoming Increasingly Difficult to Recruit More Referees

How Adults’ “Referee Rage” Imperils Youth Leaguers’ Safety

By Doug Abrams

Under the headline, “Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect,” the New York Times ran an article late last month about the acute shortage of experienced youth sports officials in many communities. The Associated Press reported that “[b]y all accounts, finding and retaining referees is becoming more and more difficult” because of “growing animosity and poor behavior among fans and coaches.”

The article is the latest one about veteran officials who are driven to quit, unwilling (as the Times and the Associated Press put it) to be “yelled at, threatened or insulted” game after game. Newspapers regularly run similar articles about “referee rage,” the verbal and sometimes physical abuse that parents and coaches inflict on game officials. This summer, for example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune rans a similar story, “Help Wanted: High School Officials.” A few years ago on this blog, I wrote about a Deseret (Utah) Morning News article which explained that “[b]rand-new officials often suffer through their first season of abuse before deciding that refereeing just isn’t worth it.”

Some results of the nationwide shortage of experienced referees are readily apparent to anyone who pays even glancing attention. Games might have to be postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled. Seasons may have to be shortened so that league schedules do not outpace the roster of available officials.

This column concerns a more serious result that can escape notice as leagues scurry to recruit and train replacement officials. Many of the replacements are less experienced, and they are unprepared to maintain control of fast-paced games. Particularly in contact and collision sports at the older age levels, inexperienced officiating can increase the risk of injury to players, including ones who play clean.

Enforcing the Rules

“To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” The American Academy of Pediatrics reports agreement among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

Particularly in contact or collision sports at older age levels, essential enforcement of the rules and control of the game can suffer when so many veteran officials hang up their whistles each year. But for the veteran officials’ premature departure, many of their less experienced replacements would not yet be on the field.

“They Can’t Figure Out Why”

In suburban Chicago in late 1999, rabid parents and coaches had overwhelmed the outmanned referees throughout an entire junior varsity hockey game, whose final score meant nothing in the big picture of things. At the final buzzer or a second or two afterwards, a player skated full speed across the ice, blind-sided a 14-year-old opponent who had scored a three-goal hat trick, and body-checked him head-first into the boards. “That’s what you get for messing,” the player glared at his victim who lay prone on the ice, permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

The victim could have been any parent’s child. No news account suggested that the victim played dirty. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the target of impulsive violence at the end of a game that was out of control from the opening faceoff. If the referees, parents, and coaches had maintained control as both teams tried their best to win within the rules, the victim would likely have walked out of the rink because players supervised by responsible adults do not race several yards to drive opponents’ faces into the ground at the end of a game.

A year after the ill-fated JV hockey game, a veteran referee told the Chicago Daily Herald that “nothing” had changed in Chicago-area high school hockey. “It’s just as bad as it ever was,” the referee said. “There’s kids being carried off the ice every night.  “You have parents acting like animals in the stands, coaches acting like animals on the bench . . . “[b]ut when their kid gets hurt, they can’t figure out why.”

For the sake of their own children, parents and coaches need to “figure out why” by identifying a relationship between adults “referee rage” and players’ safety. Then, the adults need to maintain self-control, even during heated games. Connect the dots.


Sources:  Assoc. Press, Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect, N.Y. Times, Nov. 28, 2015; David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 31, 2015;  Dan Rasmussen, Referee Shortage Hurting Soccer, Deseret (Utah) Morning News Apr. 26, 2005; Chris G. Koutures & Andrew J. M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, p. 410 (2010); Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, Clinical J. of Sport Medicine, vol. 19, p. 451 (2009); Barry Rozner, One Year After a Hockey Tragedy, What Has Changed?, Chi. Daily Herald, Nov, 3, 2000, at 1. Tony Gordon, Plea Deal Ends Emotional Hockey Case, Chi. Daily Herald, Aug. 8, 2000, at 1; Dirk Johnson, Hockey Player, 15, Is Charged After Seriously Injuring a Rival, N.Y. Times, Dec. 9, 1999, at A21.

SPORT SAFETY: Getting an Insight on Kids’ Vision

Dr. Don Teig is a Florida-based eye doctor who has dedicated his career to not only providing top-flight eye care to professional athletes in a variety of sports, but has also tried to be on the leading edge of technological advancements with sports and eyesight.

In his new book, HIGH PERFORMANCE VISION: How to Improve Your Visual Acuity, Hone Your Motor Skills, and Up Your Game, Dr. Teig presents a number of easy-to-implement vision drills, all designed to help any athlete’s ability with their eyes. Among the various drills we discussed on the radio show this AM, Dr. Teig talked about one exercise for baseball and softball players which will help them develop a quicker reaction time to pitches. In effect, each pitched ball should have a distinct letter painted on it, and the batter is instructed to not only see the pitch but of course, to try and read the letter on the ball.

This kind of focus helps the batter not only see the pitch better, but also trains one’s eyes to see the pitch even longer to the plate. We all know that a typical hitter has less than half a second to determine whether or not to swing at a pitch. This kind of drill allows the batter to really improve their focus and quick reaction time to seeing the ball.


Dr. Teig also talked about dominant eye theory. And again, using baseball or softball as an illustration, he explained how too many batters may be right eye dominant, but when they get into the batter’s box as a right-handed batter, they often don’t turn their head enough to see the pitcher face on. As a result, their right eye is actually shaded by one’s nose, and that means that not only is the batter looking at the incoming pitch with their weaker eye, but they’re not even seeing the pitch in a three-dimension, stereoscopic manner.

I noted that a lot of young hitters focus so much on their legs and hands and arms that they often don’t realize that they have to face the pitcher with both eyes, not just one. (If you don’t believe me, the next time you watch a major league game, note how all the hitters view the pitcher fully with both eyes).

In short, learning how to approach every pitch with both eyes on the ball will greatly enhance your hitting.

Other tidbits from Dr. Teig: are there certain foods that are good for eyes? Kale and spinach, and yes, carrots. Carrots have beta-carotene, which is good for your retina.

Women tend to have better eyesight than men do.

Performance enhancing drugs may improve eye sight, but there are no studies that prove that either way.

One topic that I didn’t have enough to get to was his thoughts about how athletic trainers can detect concussions in athletes. I will try and get that information and post it.

All in all, the topic of eye sight in sports continues to explode in terms of advances. Dr. Teig referred listeners to his website, Highperformancevision, if you would like more information. And his book is definitely worth ordering from Amazon.

COLLEGE RECRUITING: What’s the Perspective on Recruiting from the College Coach?

Wayne Mazzoni has dual careers: one, he’s the long-time pitching coach at Sacred Heart University (Bridgeport, CT) which is a very successful D-1 program, and two, he’s a nationally-recognized expert on college recruiting (check out his website at

Over the years, I have had Wayne on my show to talk about college recruiting tips from the view point of the HS athlete and his or her parents. College recruiting is always a hot topic.

But on this morning’s program, I turned it around a bit. I asked Wayne about how the college coaches themselves viewed the recruiting process, and Wayne’s thoughts were fascinating.

For starters, he emphasized that too many kids (and parents) fail to realize that with the exception of D-I football and basketball, most colleges are very limited by their budget for athletic scholarships, and as a result, it’s the rare athlete who gets anywhere close to a full ride, again, with the exception of football and basketball. As such, Wayne made it clear that many HS athletes, who have excellent grades, can often qualify for an academic scholarship which, along with a partial athletic scholarship, will help pay their tuition.

“If there’s one piece of advice kids need to know is that they really ought to pay attention to their HS grades,” said Mazzoni. “Because if the recruiting college coach can tell the admissions office that your grades are good, that’s going to help a lot in terms of paying bills. Remember, college these days is expensive, and it’s foolish not to get all the scholarship money that you can, regardless of whether it’s for academics or athletics.”


In addition, Wayne cited a statistic that most aspiring athletes don’t realize: that about 50% of the kids who start college playing a sport will end up leaving that sport as they continue in college. There could be any number of reasons for this, e.g. injury, lack of playing time, too much practice time, etc. But very few students seem to know this when they look at colleges. Maybe that’s to be expected — after all, they anticipate being a key member of their college team.

But sadly, this doesn’t always happen. And kids can become depressed and lonely when they stop playing their sport in college.

“This is why I tell kids over and over again that you must find a college where you will be happy for four years even if you aren’t playing a sport there,” Mazzoni says. Remember, for most athletes, their career ends at the end of high school. Playing sports in college is extra dessert.

It’s a good point. The attrition rate for kids leaving a college sport is very high. And don’t forget, with each incoming freshman class, there are more recruiting athletes coming into the mix.


Whether one likes it or not, if your son or daughter wants to be seen by a college coach, getting seen at a reputable showcase is a big, big help. As Wayne says, “I receive hundreds of videotape highlight reels each year, all of them polished, and all accompanied by glowing recommendations from their HS coach. But in truth, I really need to see the youngster play and perform in person. Tapes really don’t help that much.”

He also made it clear that the NCAA has very strict rules and regulations about the recruiting process, and that parents need to understand that the NCAA regs have to be adhered to by the college coach. That being said, any good college program is recruiting for new players 365 days a year, and they are looking for top prospects two years ahead.

One last important point. Wayne made it clear that, sometimes, it seems that kids and their parents are so focused on living their athletic career in the future that they don’t really enjoy the ride during HS. “That’s a shame,” notes Wayne. “You should focus on and enjoy your HS career. Do well there and the future will take care of itself.”