ANDOVER — Sen. Barry Finegold is bucking the trend.
Football, at least the tackle version at the youth level, is losing participants like a sieve.
And a lot of his co-horts on Beacon Hill in Boston are OK with that development. In fact, two state reps, one from North Reading -- Rep. Bradley Jones -- co-signed a bill that would halt tackle football in Massachusetts for those in seventh grade or below.
Sen. Finegold couldn’t go silent any longer on his opposition with the bill, particularly after hearing that only 80 boys have signed up for Andover Youth Football, down from its heydey of about 280 a decade ago.
“I hear those numbers and I’m concerned for the sport,” said Sen. Finegold.
So concerned he is sponsoring a local youth football forum at Andover Memorial Public Library tonight, Wed., May 1, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
A Who’s Who panel will be there to speak and answer questions, including Cindy Cole, a registered nurse and Andover parent; Dr. Mark Lapp, Orthopedic Surgeon & Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Tufts University; Roman Oben, a former NFL Player and Director of Youth & High School Football for the NFL; Dr. Karen Postal, Clinical & Pediatric Neuropsychologist and Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Scott Sigman, Orthopedic Surgeon; and NFL Hall of Famer, Andre Tippett, Executive Director of Community Affairs for the New England Patriots.
“I honestly wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t play football,” said Sen. Finegold. “I had amazing experiences with Andover Junior Football. I had great coaches and learned so much about the team aspects of the game.
“Then I go on to high school and have Dick Collins, Joe Iarrobino and Dave Bettencourt as coaches,” said Sen. Finegold. “I wasn’t very good. But I loved it and worked hard at it. I eventually didn’t start in college (Franklin & Marshall University) until my senior year. Most of my best friends were guys I played with.”
The problem, as Sen. Finegold sees it, is parents are not letting their kids play because of fear of injuries, including concussions.
“A friend of mine who teaches at Andover elementary school asked a bigger kid on the playground if he was going to play Andover Junior Football,” said Sen. Finegold. “The boy said, ‘No, my mom won’t let me. She’s afraid I’ll get concussions.’ That’s a common belief. We’re not saying there are no risks, there are in every sport. But there is so much upside with football.”
As for the inherent risks in all sports, nobody knows that better than Sen. Finegold. His daughter Eva, 13, just recovered from a concussion while playing soccer. She plays goalie in hockey and soccer.
The boon in flag football has caught Sen. Finegold’s attention. In fact, he has no problem with the sport.
“The kids seem to love it. More girls are playing, which is great,” said Sen. Finegold. “But it’s not real football, especially for the bigger kids, who aren’t fast ... like me. Flag football doesn’t teach anything about the offensive and defensive line, at least to the extent of what they’ll need to know in high school.”
Sen. Finegold also has a son, Max, who is 7.
“If he decides to play,” he said, “in the end, my wife and I will want to make the decision rather than have to abide by a state law.”
Sen. Finegold said he’s expecting over 100 people, most parents, to come to the Andover library armed with questions and an open mind.
“We’re lucky to have some great professionals who can answer the questions that need to be asked,” said Sen. Finegold. “That’s why this forum is good. Some parents may walk away and say they still won’t want their kids to play football. And that’s fine. At least they will leave being informed.”
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.
If you go ...
What: Youth football forum
When: Tonight (Wed., May 1), 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Andover Memorial Public Library
Who: Panel consists of -- Sen. Barry Finegold, of Andover; Cindy Cole, a registered nurse and Andover parent; Dr. Mark Lapp, Orthopedic Surgeon & Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Tufts University; Roman Oben, a former NFL Player and D irector of Youth & High School Football for NFL; Dr. Karen Postal, Clinical & Pediatric Neuropsychologist and Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Scott Sigman, Orthopedic Surgeon; and NFL Hall of Famer, Andre Tippett, Executive Director of Community Affairs for the New England Patriots.
Other: Open to all interested people and parents from Merrimack Valley and southern N.H. Light refreshments will be served.