In order to reduce the amount of full-speed, head-on impact in games, Pop Warner announced Thursday it will become the first national football organization to eliminate kickoffs.
The ban, which will take affect this fall, is only geared toward the three youngest divisions: Tiny Mite (5 to 7 years old), Mitey Mite (7 to 9) and Junior Pee Wee (8 to 10).
Instead of a kickoff, the ball will be placed at the 35-yard line.
“We are constantly working to make the game safer and better for our young athletes, and we think this move is an important step in that direction,” said Pop Warner’s executive director, Jon Butler, in a written statement.
“Eliminating kickoffs at this level adds another layer of safety without changing the nature of this great game. We are excited to look at the results at the end of the year as we explore additional measures,” he said.
Concerns regarding athletic concussions and their long-term effects have grown tremendously recent years. As those concerns rise, football participation has declined.
"We're losing kids, and we wanna keep kids involved,” said Fort Osage Pop Warner coach Quincy Tillmon.
Tillmon led the 9-year-old Fort Osage Indians to the national title this past December. He said the biggest step coaches can take to limit injury is through teaching proper tackling technique.
Josh Bateman’s 10-year-old son plays Pop Warner. He feels his son will be safe if he follows the same advice.
"I think that's the only way to make that game safer, is teaching techniques that are going to protect the kids … making sure that if kids come in leading with their helmets there's penalties, there's consequences for bad form,” he said.
Josh Helmuth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org