LANGHORNE, Pa. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pop Warner is eliminating kickoffs in an effort to ensure the safety of its young players.
Pop Warner made the announcement Thursday, becoming the first national football organization to do away with kickoffs.
“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,” Jon Butler, Pop Warner’s executive director, said.
The ban will affect the three youngest divisions: the Tiny Mite for 5- to 7-year olds; the Mitey Mite for ages 7 to 9; and Junior Pee Wee for 8- to 10-year olds.
The organization is hoping to reduce the amount of full-speed, head-on impact injuries during games.
“Eliminating kickoffs at this level adds another layer of safety without changing the nature of this great game,” Butler said. “We are excited to look at the results at the end of the year as we explore additional measures.”
This comes as Donnovan Hill, a California teenager who was paralyzed during a Pop Warner championship game in Laguna Hills, California, in 2011, died at the age of 18.
Hill died Wednesday at an Orange County hospital of complications from surgery related to management of his injury, attorney Robert Carey told The Associated Press. He was 13 when he fractured his spine during a Pop Warner game.
It left him with minimal use of his arms and no independent movement below his chest.
Hill and his mother, Crystal Dixon, claimed in a 2014 lawsuit against the youth league that the teen used a dangerous headfirst tackling technique promoted by his coaches.
The suit alleged that Hill was punished when he objected to the technique in practice and that he used it in games with no repercussions. In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in 2013, his coaches offered conflicting accounts on whether they encouraged headfirst tackling.
Head coach Sal Hernandez said he warned Hill against using the technique, but assistant coach Manny Martinez defended its use.
The lawsuit revealed the lack of safety protections for Pop Warner players. Founded in 1929, the league promoted a safety-first philosophy and claimed young people played for coaches trained in proper tackling.
But in a deposition, Butler conceded that the national office does not check whether coaches actually receive such training, ESPN reported. The sports network first reported Hill’s death.
Hill reached a seven-figure settlement with Pop Warner in January, though exact details were not disclosed. The case set an important legal precedent that will force national organizations to enforce rules all the way down to the community level, said Carey, the attorney.
“Donnovan’s case will have an impact on young athletes for generations,” he said. “It will help ensure that those in charge of safety — from directors and coaches to whole organizations — will not be allowed to shirk their duties or avoid responsibility.”
Last year, CBS News reported some high schools canceled or cut short their football seasons due to safety concerns.
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