Coastside Pop Warner Football is underway, with practices starting last week at Half Moon Bay High School. Like last season, there will be two teams, the 12-and-under and 10-and-under, as well as a traveling cheer team for the 10-game schedule, a first for the Coastside Pop Warner league.
With official certification on Aug. 24, the kids will perform 10 hours of conditioning before donning the pads.
Times are changing for youth football.
On July 31, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law dubbed the California Youth Football Act, limiting full-contact practices to 30 minutes a day, twice a week, for youth football programs. It will not go into effect until 2021. The bill was first introduced by Jim Cooper, an assemblyman representing Elk Grove. The state Senate approved the bill earlier in July with no opposition.
It’s a big change. In 2014, the state Legislature mandated that full contact for middle and high school teams be limited to 90 minutes a day, two days per week. The law is an attempt to limit concussions, which have led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has caused brain damage in football players, particularly at more advanced levels.
Last year, a bill introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty attempted to ban anyone under 12 from playing tackle football, but it failed to pass.
Danny Dimas, president of Coastside Pop Warner Football, said every season there are rules put in place to make the game safer. He wants to implement a new style of play that will help prevent long-term injuries.
“We teach a different form of tackling, which is called hawk style, which is closer to rugby style,” Dimas said. “You don’t hit head to head anymore. You don’t even hit head to chest anymore.”
Though youth football may be on the decline, it still holds the top spot in high school sports.
The California Interscholastic Federation said on Aug. 1 that high school sports participation rose to an all-time high for the seventh consecutive year. There are 814,004 student-athletes statewide, and football is still the most popular, with 91,305 students playing in 2019. However, that number is a 3.16 percent decrease (2,981 students) from the 94,286 who played football a year earlier.
Ronny Melo, vice president of the Coastside league, has a son playing on the 10U team. Though participation has declined in recent years, he’s excited about the upcoming season that will feature new players on the roster. Melo said, with new kids joining the teams and shaking off the rust, safety is a daily priority.
“Football has changed. It’s no longer the way it used to be,” he said. “We’re teaching the kids how to tackle properly, keep their heads up. So it’s all about safety and the kids having fun.”