Gearing up for the season, Branford Youth Football President Joe Giannini has some safety concerns for his players but it’s not for the reasons you might think. Coaching the sixth-grade youth football team who practices nightly at , Giannini said, “When you don’t have enough players the kids aren’t getting enough rest and that increases the propensity for injury for those players.”
Currently the sixth-grade team has about 14 players, said Giannini, adding that he’d like to have as many as 36 players to split into two squads. Having more players on a team, he explained, offers time for athletes to rest between downs and the option for them to play either offense or defense but not the need for them to play both.
“It’s a safety,” issue he said. “That’s why we want more players.”
Parents’ fears that football isn’t safe, he said, is one of the main reasons he thinks BYF participation is much less than it could be. Other towns, he said, like Madison, Cheshire and North Haven, have much bigger rosters than Branford.
Other reasons that more kids don’t join the league, which includes flag football up to third grade and tackle football grades four to eight, is the growing popularity of year-round sports like hockey, baseball and soccer, said Giannini.
Giannini assured that the league takes all measures to ensure safety of players. This year all helmets, which are certified by the American Youth Football League, were re-conditioned and new shoulder pads and pants were purchased. “We put almost every dollar we have into providing equipment,” he said, “so they can have a safe experience in football.”
If any participants of BYF should have safety at the forefront of his or her mind, Dave Lasky, father of sixth-grade player Sam Laske, said it should be him. “I think Sam is pretty much – I don’t want to say it – but a poster child. He’s prone to seizures and he has had a head injury so getting this past my wife was brutal but it was strictly Sam’s decision. He really enjoys football and we just support him.”
Sam, who was born 70 percent deaf in addition to having a head injury, has been playing with BYF since the flag league, said Dave. He stands on the sidelines and tells his son when to stop running through a speaker in the helmet because Sam cannot hear the range of the whistle. “He’s got a really good helmet,” said Dave, “and I don’t think the coaches ever put him in harm’s way and we practice to keep him safe.” He added, “but boys will be boys and he could fall off a bike at home.”
Giannini’s suspicions about safety being a big reason why more kids are not coming out may be true. Last year Dr. Stephanie Arlis-Mayor of the Center for Orthopaedics spoke about sports-related concussions and the danger of ignoring symptoms at the . She told members of the audience, “If you love your kids, don’t let them play football.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, "the activities associated with the greatest number of TBI-related [traumatic brain injury] ED [emergency department] visits included bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball, and soccer."
Because the dangers of sports-related concussions are the forefront of many parents’ minds, officials will be meeting in early fall regarding the pilot implementation of IMPACT testing for the winter season. IMPACT tests provide a baseline for coaches and medical personnel to evaluate student-athletes who are suspected of sustaining head injury. The full determination of what teams will receive IMPACT testing has not been determined at this time.
Calling the BYF program the future of the Branford High School team, Giannini and league vice president Sean Kelly, said they hope more kids will sign-up. The safety issue, said Giannini, is number one, but “it’s also a fun issue,” he said.
The last day to sign-up for youth football is Tuesday Aug. 28. If you’re interested contact:
Joe Giannini, 203-410-4645 or Sean Kelly, 203-500-4248.