Paris is risky? How about high school football

On the weekend, I commented for this Jeremy Nolais Metro story about the CBE potentially cancelling portions of high school trips to Europe because of the threat of terrorism.

I was happy the CBE is taking precautions, and managing risk. However, I can’t see that going to Paris, or flying into the Paris airport, is any more risky than playing high school football.

I’d love someone at the CBE to start talking about the risks and costs associated with offering a high school football program.

The statistics are stunning. In US studies, football injuries are second only to cycling in volume and severity. The rates of catastrophic spinal cord injury is 0.7 in 100,000 in high school and 2.66 at college.  That means the player does not recover. And death?  The rate is 0.4 in 100,000. The report mentions catastrophic brain injuries, and speaks to five cases in 2012, but does not provide a frequency rate.

That study doesn’t talk at all about garden variety concussions, the types that we now know can have devastating long-term impacts on a person’s life. The NFL commissioned a study of High School football in the US and found a rate of 11.3 concussions per 10,000 “athletic exposures.” That means every practice or game – and it’s almost twice the level of college football players.

And then, read this Globe and Mail story. It points to a study that shows football players don’t even need to be concussed to lose brain function. The constant low-level impacts of the game take a toll.

Don’t forget that tragedy has already hit the CBE’s football program.  In 2004, Tyler Zeer, a Gr. 11 student at Bowness High School died after a routine hit at a practice.

I would have thought there would have been some discussion about the future of football when results were known from this study at Ernest Manning High School. All players wore sensors in their helmets which measured the force of impact of hits. They used the data from the sensor to determine when a hit was hard enough to cause a concussion. When it happened, sports medicine personnel could assess the player. They found 15 of those hits through part of the season. That figure is more than the entire league reported in concussions for the whole season.

Ok, so we know it’s a risky sport.

What are the rewards? How does high school football benefit learning?

In the early 90s, I covered high school football for the Calgary Herald. I interviewed lots of student athletes, and got to know many, many coaches. I routinely did stories about the hard-knock kid,  whose talent on the football field kept them in school and away from drugs. Is this still happening?

I’m not sure. Back then, high school was the first opportunity for kids to play football. But now, there are 14 bantam (age 13-15) and Pee Wee (age 11-12) teams in Calgary and area that play in a well-organized league with city and provincial championships. There is also a midget program for Grade 9-11 kids to play in outside of the fall high school league.

It’s true, high school programs are more accessible fee-wise than the club programs. Most high school players pay about $300 to play. One midget football program I looked into cost about $600. However, I’m sure there are ways social organizations and kids sports charities could support teams and players through the nine Calgary clubs.

Then there is the cost to the CBE and its schools. We don’t know what proportion of the CBE’s $4.9 million insurance bill covers football-associated liability, but I’m sure there would be a chunk of it.

We also know it takes a lot of coaches. While many are volunteers who aren’t teachers, many are. There are often games where teachers will have to leave school early to make the games. (I know that’s the case with field hockey, track and cross country running.) So there’s missed class time when substitute teachers must be paid from school budgets.

Finally, while fees and fundraising pay for some equipment, I’m sure it’s not all of it. (Hence, the difference in cost between club and school programs.)

When you weigh the risks and the rewards, I say that it probably isn’t worth it. Especially when we know the well-funded and organized club system in Calgary would step in and provide players with a place to play each fall.

I spoke to a former contact of mine, a long time coach and athletic director. I asked should schools still offer football? His comment:

“I really can’t believe we still do.”

So, trustee candidates, what do you say?  Should we still be in the football business as way to support our core business of  learning?