Brain Injury Fears? Head Of 113-Team Super Conference In Northern Part Of State Says 2017 Marked Lowest Enrollment In A Decade

CRANFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — School sports will soon be getting into high gear. But some say football — once a big fall tradition — isn’t as popular as it used to be.

Participation numbers are dropping, making some believe the sport is dying.

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CBS2’s Meg Baker met one little guy on Thursday whose enthusiasm to suit up and get on the football field, unfortunately, isn’t met by his mom and her friend, Julia Perrotta, a mother of three boys.

“I have a strong inclination to say no. Traumatic brain injury. I’m a speech pathologist so I work with people with brain injuries. I think big risk there,” Perrotta said.

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Don Bosco High School Football Coxsackie

Don Bosco High School in Ramsey, New Jersey. (Credit: CBS2)

Joe Piro, president of the 113-team super football conference in North Jersey, said the fear of a head injury is one reason the 2017 high school season saw the biggest decline in participation in the past decade.

“I don’t think we have to start closing programs down yet, but it’s a concern,” Piro said.

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Piro said 1,700 fewer kids signed up to play the sport last season.

He addressed safety concerns.

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“Football is as safe as it ever has been with the guidelines we’ve put in and new regulations,” Piro said.

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Limiting the amount of full contact during the week, new concussion protocols, and different tackling styles are seen at contributing factors.

Cranford High School head football coach Erik Rosenmier said having a winning record five years helps keep interest. He partially blames an earlier start to the season for a slight decline in numbers.

“We started as early as Aug. 6. If I’m a kid that primarily is a basketball player, but I also like football, making me come here Aug. 6 is a problem. We didn’t start last year until Aug. 13. I would have started later if I could we still go to Thanksgiving.”

Piro said kids are also getting “footballed-out.”

“They are starting too young, third or fourth grade. Helmets and shoulders pads, the equipment doesn’t even fit. They don’t need it, they need to be in instructional leagues like the NFL flag league is a great example, they need to learn the basics of game. Don’t need Vince Lombardi atmosphere on third-grade level,” Piro said.

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Rosenmier said he also allows his players to get involved in other sports.

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The 2017 high school season saw a drop in participation of 6.8 percent over the previous year, according to statistics released by the National Federation of State High School Associations.