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The Frankfort Station 041218

54 | April 12, 2018 |

54 | April 12, 2018 | The frankfort station sports frankfortstation.com Youth football leagues taking safety head on T.J. Kremer III Contributing Editor Football is an inherently violent sport. Very few people would dispute that. There’s no real way of getting around that violent aspect of the game and still have it called “football.” The game is filled with violent collisions on nearly every single play; however, steps have been taken in recent years in light of the discoveries that long-term damage from concussions can have on players’ brains. Improvements to players’ gear, better training of coaching staff and a reduction in the amount of contact drills in practices are just some of the ways area youth football leagues are working to make the game safer for younger players. What the data shows Despite the best intentions of many scientists and those in the medical field, the data on concussions and traumatic brain injury can be spotty, mostly due to a lack of sufficient reporting of those injuries from youth football leagues across the country. One recent study, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine in February 2017, reports that injury rates among the approximately 2.8 million participants in youth football can vary anywhere from 2.3 percent all the way up to 30.4 percent, and cites a report from USA Football of a concussion rate of 4 percent. The study found that: “Of the 46,416 exposures, there were a total of 128 injuries, representing 121 different players. The players who were injured ranged from 8 to 13 years of age, with a mean age of 10.6 years and a median age of 11 years. The overall injury rate was 2.76 injuries per 1000 exposures. Of the 128 injuries, 65 were considered severe. Of the 65 severe injuries, 33 were classified as concussions.” The data also showed, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that participants in flag football had nearly double the concussions per 1,000 exposures rate (1.33) as tackle football (.68). The Mokena Burros, now in their 56th year, joind the nationwide Pop Warner League this past year, which brings access to training on how to make practices and games safer. photos submitted Long histories, new safety measures Some of our area youth football leagues have been around for decades, such as the Mokena Burros, now in its 56th year. The Burros made a switch this past year to join the nationwide Pop Warner League, the same league as Lockport Junior Porters; while the Frankfort Square Wildcats and the Homer Stallions belong to the River Valley Youth Football League. With the switch to the Pop Warner league comes a wealth of national resources for the Mokena and Lockport leagues, including access to the latest training for coaches on how to make practices and games safer for participants. The Burros have eliminated kick-offs for games, which was aimed at significantly reduce the amount of full-speed, head-on impact in games. Instead of kicking it off, the ball is placed at the 35-yard line to start each half and after each score in all Tiny Mite (5- to 7-years-old), Mitey Mite (7- to 9-year olds) and Junior Pee Wee (8- to 10- year olds) games; however, the Burros will still teach the fundamentals of kick-off and receive, albeit non-contact, at practice to prepare them as they get older, according to Rusy Mitcheff, president of the Burros. Pop Warner has also implemented limiting player contact at practice, restricting contact to 25 percent of practice time. “With the tools and support provided by Pop Warner to the Mokena Burros, we believe we can achieve a quality, fundamental practice and teach the game of football,” Mitcheff said. Coaches are now certified and are mandated to train in USA Football’s Heads Up Football program and Pop Warner certification where safer approaches to tackling and blocking are taught. In addition to the coaching certification, first responders are provided at both Pop Warner and River Valley League games to promote safety and to provide the attention to a player if required. Finally, equipment from both leagues is inspected, yearly in Pop Warner and once every two years in River Valley, and any defective equipment is replaced to ensure safety. And the leagues are always looking for the latest equipment to offer that would increase safety even more, said The Frankfort Square Wildcats, who play in the River Valley Youth Football League, are always looking for new equipment to increase safety, according to coach Ken Dangman. Ken Dangman, Frankfort Square Wildcats coach and director of equipment on the Frankfort Square Wildcats Board of Directors. “Better safe than sorry. You never know when and if something is going to happen,” Dangman said. “We’re obviously real big on the equipment. We follow all the rules, like we’re supposed to… Just making sure the kids are safe. They’re out there under our hands. We’re with them everyday. God forbid something would happen. That’s not something we’d ever be looking to have happen.” Registration is currently ongoing for all flag football, tackle football and cheer programs. For more information on registration visit: Mokena Burros at mokenaburros.com, Homer Stallions at homerstallions.com, and Lockport Junior Porters at jrportersfootbal.com

frankfortstation.com sports the frankfort station | April 12, 2018 | 55 fastbreak Track and field East's Kruzel siblings make their mark in discus 22nd Century Media file photo 1st-and-3 Three things to know about Sam Shafer and Carolyn Waleski 1. Sam Shafer, an East boys basketball player, holds the Griffin season school records for most points (549), most rebounds (189), and most free throws (175). 2. Carolyn Waleski, a Griffins girls basketball player, set a new school record for most steals in a season (132) and most steals in a game (11). 3. Shafer will play for Southern Illinois University in the fall, while Waleski will attend the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as a preferred walk-on. Nuria Mathog, Editor Brother and sister Brittney and John Kruzel are a force to be reckoned with. The Frankfort residents and Lincoln-Way East varsity track and field athletes have an impressive list of accomplishments under their belts. Brittney, a four-year varsity athlete, is this year's team captain and has held the school record for the discus throw since her junior year, when she threw a 117-7 at the Glenbard South Lady Raider Invitational in April 2017. She was also a member of the state title-winning 2015-2016 track and field team. John, a sophomore entering his second year on the boys varsity team, won the 2017 Carlin Nalley Invitational as a freshman and threw his personal record of 149-2. For Brittney, the journey to success began as a seventhgrader at Hickory Creek Middle School, where she played on the Tigers softball team. "We had a really awesome coach at Hickory Creek — his name was Mitch Stein, Mr. Stein," she said. "He was an awesome coach, and he asked me if I wanted to try throwing the discus after softball practice one day. And I threw it. I ended up doing track next year with him and I've loved it ever since. I ended up choosing to throw discus instead of being on the Siblings and Lincoln-Way East athletes John (left) and Brittney Kruzel have both performed well in the discus throw. Photo submitted softball team, because track was just really my passion, and I loved throwing." John followed in his sister's footsteps and quickly discovered he had a gift for the event as well, earning two state discus titles during his time at Hickory Creek — once in seventh grade and once in eighth grade. "(Brittney's) eighth-grade year, when I was going into sixth grade, I tried discus ... and I ended up being really good at it," he explained. "It's very rare for a sixth-grader to go to state. I went to state that year, and after that I realized that I was very, very good at that." At East, the two siblings often train together during track and field practice and also work with a private instructor on Sundays and during the summer. The experience has brought the pair much closer together, Brittney said. "We spend a lot of time just working together and helping and improving each other," she said. Brittney's strengths lie not just on the field but in the classroom as well — she is a member of Pi Sigma Pi, Mu Alpha Theta and National Honors Society, as well as a 2018-2019 Illinois State Scholar. This fall, she will attend Hawaii Pacific University on a full academic scholarship. In the meantime, she hopes to finish out her career at East by breaking the school record she set and returning to state. "It's my senior year, so I definitely want to finish out and just get my mark even higher," she said. John has an ambitious season ahead of him as well; he will divide his time this spring between track and baseball. "I'm the third person to do it in Lincoln-Way school history ... as of right now, I'm doing really well in it," he said. "I'm doing really well in baseball and also doing well in track. And hopefully, throughout the year, I will progress and get better at each one." Listen Up "Carolyn was the catalyst for this year’s team. She led the way to a school-record 28 wins and set school records with 11 steals in a game and 132 in a season. She is one of the best athletes we have had here at East." Jim Martin — Lincoln-Way East girls basketball coach What 2 Watch Girls track and field At Lincoln-Way East, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18. • East will compete against both Bolingbrook and Lockport during the SWSC Triangular meet. Index 48 — This Week In... 47 — Athlete of the Week FASTBREAK is compiled by Editor Nuria Mathog, nuria@frankfortstation.com.