Lights out? Forsaking football in the land of gridiron giants

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More than a sign of the times, it's a sign of concern. Here in the land of Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Mike Ditka, fewer high school students are opting to play football.

Coaches say a big reason is parents concerned about concussions.

Although the trend has not been enough to dim those Friday Night Lights, the falling numbers are striking. The Post-Gazette's Mike White reported last week that many of the WPIAL's teams have smaller squads than 10 years ago. At Woodland Hills High School, the number of players fell from 94 in 2003 to 62 this year, a 34 percent drop. Other schools have seen similar declines: Baldwin, 27 percent; Shaler, 27 percent; North Hills, 25 percent; Fox Chapel, 21 percent.

This is not unique to Western Pennsylvania, a reliable reservoir of scholastic football talent. It tracks with a national pattern in which 25,000 fewer students are playing the game today than were five years ago.

Besides fear of serious injuries like concussions, other reasons for adolescents leaving the gridiron are the year-round demands of conditioning and the proliferation of other sports -- all understandable from a mother's and father's point of view.

Even if academics (heaven forbid) were cited as an issue in turning a teen away from football, it would be a sign that families are looking at their students' long-term well-being and long odds at making it big in this unforgiving sport.

It's true that people from the region's old river towns (and tony suburbs and city neighborhoods) still pack the bleachers to watch high school teams go at it in the fall. But if Big Steel couldn't last, why should high school knockoffs of the Steel Curtain?

Yes, it's fun to watch 16-year-olds pass, kick and run the ball, but if they (and their watchful parents) have other ideas for how to spend these formative years, the public will just have to find other entertainment. Isn't that why God invented Netflix?



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