District 203 replaces junior high tackle football with flag program

Neya Thanikachalam, Editor-in-Chief

There was no way that mother of three Courtney Rozek was letting her son, Noah, a sixth-grader at Lincoln Junior High School, play football.

“A lot of information that’s come out in the past few years has been concerning because it talks about the risk of head injuries,” Rozek said. “[…] We just decided that was something that [he] did not need to do, considering that there are so many other options in Naperville to play sports and be on other activities.”

Rozek knows of the potential dangers and aftereffects of brain injury personally.

“I sustained a head injury when I was in eighth grade and I am on medication for the rest of my life,” Rozek said. “There were life-altering repercussions of that. I know what a big deal it can be.”

But now, District 203 will be changing from tackle football to flag football at the middle school level next year in order to combat declining enrollment, and Rozek is considering letting her son join if he wants to.

“To me, it’s something that’s done more for fun, and it’s something they can go do after school and have a good time and there’s really not that risk of injury,” Rozek said.

A study done by Boston University’s (BU) medical program this year found a possible link between playing tackle football at a younger age and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that is found in people with repeated head trauma.

However pediatrician Dr. Jim Pera warned that the common association with head injuries and tackle football is not completely scientifically verified, and that sometimes data can be interpreted incorrectly.

“Now if I said [of] everybody in my class, the average high school kid in my class is six foot three, you wouldn’t really believe that,” Pera said. “But if I was in the classroom with all the basketball players, well then there you go.”

BU clarified that there was a selection bias in their findings because “families of players with symptoms of neurodegeneration are far more likely to donate brains to research,” which would lead to only those brains being examined in post mortem studies.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the research should be overlooked. And Ann McKee, the director of BU’s CTE center, hypothesizes that playing tackle football at a young age could reduce a person’s “cognitive reserve,” or their ability to resist symptoms of any type of brain disease.

Pera believes that the switch from tackle to flag football will help with enrollment, but he doesn’t associate it with a decline in the injury rate.

“Most of the studies have not shown a difference in the overall injuries of flag football versus tackle,” Pera said. “So, you [can] actually sprain your ankle, twist things, your forearm, falling down, bumps and bruises, contusions, there’s a lot of things that happen in flag football that also happen in tackle that aren’t being addressed.”

The Central Times told Rozek about this, and asked her if it influenced her opinion.

“I guess it depends on the kind of injury,” Rozek said. “I’m not so worried about broken arms, broken legs. They can do that riding a bike. But the real concern is the head injury.”