With many high schools fighting the numbers game when it comes to football, forfeits are bound to happen and nobody notices.
But when a school forfeits a game because it loses four players to head injuries, sirens blare, lights flash and alarmists want to turn football into two-hand touch.
“People have a fear instilled by the national media, and that’s one of the things that’s affected our football numbers,” Rudyard coach Mark Johnson said. “Kids aren’t even out for football because they want to play baseball or basketball — something that’s noncontact. Parents get convinced their kids are going to get hurt.”
Rudyard, in the eastern Upper Peninsula, lost four upperclassmen to head injuries in Week 3 and forfeited last week’s game to East Jordan. Those four players were two-way starters, meaning Rudyard lost eight starters from an already thin roster.
On the first day of practice last month, Rudyard totaled only five upperclassmen. Three more upperclassmen, two of whom are exchange students, joined the team before the first game, and two seniors came out after the first game, bringing the roster to 18.
“We still had these young kids in key spots,” Johnson said. “We played the first game, and those kids were shell-shocked.”
Johnson had to do a hard sell just to get enough freshmen and sophomores out to field a varsity team, with no chance of a junior varsity squad.
“I had to have a parent meeting the second week of practice because the parents of the freshmen didn’t want their kids playing varsity,” he said. “Some wanted just a JV team, but I was not going to do that to the upperclassmen.”
The team competed well for a time in its second and third games, until the head injuries occurred. After a team meeting, it was decided to forfeit last week’s game.
Rudyard (0-4) will play Saturday against Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) Korah Collegiate, and all four of the players have been cleared to play.
Johnson is concerned what the publicity of the concussions will do to parents with young kids who are undecided about permitting them to play football.
People see the problems former NFL players have after repeated concussions and think the same fate awaits their children, even though the overwhelming majority never will play after high school.
And in high school, kids are not being hit by 6-foot-4, 245-pound safeties who run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds.
“I think there is an overreaction taking place around America and in Michigan,” Johnson said. “People are going after the game of football.”
The truth is, high school football never has been more sensitive to safety than it is today.
Coaches are more educated and take a different approach to teaching blocking and tackling than they did 20 years ago, and the protocol is much more strict.
Protocol back in the day was to say a kid “got his bell rung” and he was back on the field for the next series. Back then, kids weren’t given water breaks because that was considered a sign of weakness.
Now coaches take the University of Michigan Health System’s high school coach concussion training, which takes the coaches out of the decision-making process.
“I’ll say this: We are being responsible,” Johnson said.
The forfeit proves that.
“If this were 10 years ago,” he said, “several of those kids might have just played last week. When I was a player, that would have been the protocol. … We turn this over to the medical people. They tell me when they are good to go.”
Everyone in Rudyard is good to go this week, and let’s try to tone down the concussion hysteria.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.