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?

Why I shouldn’t run for CBE Trustee

Yesterday, I penned a blog post about why I should run for the board of trustees. I’m passionate about Public Education and have the skills and leadership to succeed at the role. I could be a valuable ally for parents who want to ensure education dollars are well spent.

But there are all kinds of reasons not to run.

Do I want to join the mean girls club?

Unfortunately, that’s what many have turned to calling the Calgary Board of Education Trustees. From their comical phone call to Metro reporter Jeremy Nolais, to their performance in many publicly broadcast board meetings, its obvious professionalism and tact aren’t job requirements. I’ve heard some awful stories about what happens behind closed doors: personal attacks, slander and ganging up to vent on unpopular trustees.

Just look how the group pushed Trustee Sheila Taylor, who was often critical of the board, to the sidelines and eventually ousted her. Trustees said they weren’t allowed to grant Taylor her requested leave of absence under the school act. However two other trustees in the province had been granted leaves for the same purpose in 2012. Ironically, one was past Alberta School Boards President Jacquie Hansen, the very group the CBE cited as providing the legal opinion that leaves were not allowed. We’ll see what Edmonton Public School Board does with trustee Sarah Hoffman, who is asking for a leave to run provincially.

It’s also clear CBE trustees still don’t make decisions in a public and accountable way.

Taylor’s resignation happened at a public meeting that lasted two minutes,  between 1:43 and 1:45 p.m. on Oct. 3. Any discussion about the School Act, the ability of the board to grant a leave and associated legal opinions took place in an informal meeting before the public meeting, without minutes, motions or public scrutiny. What could be more in the public interest than how voters are represented? How could any trustee think this is good governance to keep these legal opinions and any discussion or debate on this issue private?

I bristle at the thought of sitting in a private meeting, discussing something that I felt clearly was in the public interest. Could I maintain my silence and hold confidentiality? How could I fulfill my pledge to voters to do things differently and be open and transparent if my colleagues continually opted to move in-camera? I can make my objections noted in minutes. However, what difference will that make?

And clearly, that is the biggest reason not to run. I would only be one vote on a board of seven.

While I know I have the skills to make cogent arguments and can be persuasive, I’m not sure that some of these trustees are open to listening.  On all the contentious votes last term, most went 5-2, with only Sheila Taylor and Carol Bazinet dissenting from the majority. This term, many key votes have been 4-3, with Trina Hurdman, Amber Stewart and Taylor voting as a block. It’s a situation that many are very frustrated with. There is simply an inability to make change without that majority of four votes. If elected, I’d replace Taylor’s vote. Still a losing proposition.

I know I could represent parents, voters and my communities very well. I could be an advocate and be public and transparent. However, I probably still couldn’t effect any change. Is it worth it?

Then, there’s the whole issue of the relevance of school boards when all the major decisions, infrastructure, funding, curriculum, are made in Edmonton. That’s for another post.