Pop Warner, flag football at odds over sport's safety concerns in New Jersey

Pop Warner, flag football at odds over sport's safety concerns in New Jersey


Pop Warner, flag football at odds over sport's safety concerns in New Jersey


The St. Agnes CYO Flag Football League claimed not to be in competition with Clark Pop Warner. (Facebook)

The St. Agnes CYO Flag Football League claimed not to be in competition with Clark Pop Warner. (Facebook)

Controversy is brewing in a small New Jersey town between Pop Warner officials and organizers of a flag football program who sought a non-contact alternative for players and parents concerned about the children’s well being.

Clark (N.J.) Pop Warner canceled its upcoming season because too many players defected to a rebranded flag football league sponsored by the local Catholic Youth Organization, according to the TAPintoClark news outlet.

Clark Pop Warner president Arturo De Martinis sent a sternly worded email alerting parents of the decision:

“We are emailing you today to regretfully inform all who have registered and paid to be part of our Football family this year,” he wrote on behalf of the executive board, “that we will not be able to field any teams for this year, unfortunately due to low enrollment and more importantly, some untimely and spiteful and vengeful people who live in our town decided to start a FLAG league of their own and competed with our league with some very manipulating and enticing advertising and a lower enrollment fee.”

De Martinis cited the St. Agnes CYO flag football league’s $40 registration fee and promise of one practice per week as the enticing details behind its success, but took most umbrage with the non-contact aspect of the new organization, as if youth football players and their parents don’t have the free will to decide what’s best for their own futures.

“The organizer of CYO league, if you didn’t know, has been a High school football coach for well over 25 years…and he doesn’t think the kids should HIT!” he wrote in the [sic]-filled letter. “The Hypocrisy is overwhelming! He is a HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH? its FOOTBALL for god’s sake, there is contact in FOOTBALL , but wait, the High School Football Coach should know this…you would think so! …

De Martinis voiced his concern with the future of the town’s high school football program, particularly as it relates to the preparedness of players with no contact football experience. He stressed Pop Warner’s recent adoption of USA Football’s Heads Up Football Program initiatives as paramount to the safety of future prep football players.

RELATED: Pop Warner football eliminates kickoffs in attempt to combat concussions

“We are well aware of the parents’ concerns about tackling and other injuries, but please keep in mind that the majority of Clark pop warner board members have children who play football in this league,” he added, “so with that said, if my kid is playing you can be DAM sure I’m teaching him and ALL the rest of the levels of football the same exact protocols and we have taken an oath as coaches to teach! SAFETY IS #1.”

Most of De Martinis’ fervor appears aimed at former Pop Warner coach Vincent Gioffre, who helped establish the CYO flag football league, according to TAPintoClark. Gioffre has been a high school football coach for the past 28 years, most recently serving as the offensive coordinator last season at J.P. Stevens High in nearby Edison, N.J.

Gioffre told the local news outlet his prep teams have often incorporated freshman with little to no tackling experience into the program. He also cited the film “Concussion” as a driving force behind player and parent concerns about the safety of the sport. And contrary to De Martinis’ stance, Gioffre believes flag football could actually help save the sport.

RELATED: Dr. Bennet Omalu of ‘Concussion’ fame: Don’t let kids play football

“The sport I love, I am fearful I’m going to be on the sidelines when they say there isn’t going to be a team,” Gioffre told TAPintoClark, adding that the CYO program specifically avoided scheduling conflicts with Pop Warner. “I am afraid I am going to witness the death of this sport because of fear of injury and concussion.”

He continued, “It’s a great was to reintroduce (football) to people who may have walked away, never played, are leery of it. Ultimately this idea might save the sport, when people can get comfortable with it.”

St. Agnes CYO offered flag football to youths through seventh grade, per the local paper. Meanwhile, Pop Warner transitioned players from flag to tackle football at age 8. The 54-year-old Clark Pop Warner program hopes to return in 2017, but De Martinis told TAPintoClark the organization has been seeing dwindling enrollment figures for years.

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