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Youth football issues discussed at summit

The Baltimore Sun

Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks tackled issues such as youth football's age and weight guidelines at the Howard County Youth Football Summit on Monday night.

The summit, an open discussion on improving youth football in the area and nationally, was the first of a series of five meetings to be held around the country by USA Football and the National Recreation and Park Association.

The 42 participants -- coaches, administrators, parents and players -- agreed on many issues, including that fan behavior at Howard Count games is good, but they were split on age and weight guidelines.

Fifty-one percent of participants said the guidelines should remain as they are; 32 percent said they should be raised; and 17 percent want them lowered.

According to the 2006 Central Maryland Football and Cheerleading Association football age and weight guidelines, there is an increase of 10-15 pounds as the age division rises. There is also an "older but lighter" rule that allows a certain number of players who are above the age limit but under a certain weight, to play down a level in hopes of preventing injuries.

When asked about eliminating the "older but lighter" rule, 73 percent of participants were not in support.

Bob Grady, president of the Columbia Steelers whose son also plays on the team, said that the topics discussed were issues that come up all the time in youth football. "There was nothing different that was brought up," he said. "I just hope this gets us all on the same page."

Those who attended the meeting at the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks headquarters in Columbia took part in a 20-question electronic survey administered by NRPA to gauge opinions on youth football in the area.

Kathy Spangler, director of NRPA national partnerships, said that the responses would be passed on to the national offices to assist USA Football in providing new guidelines and a national recommendation.

The goal of the 22-member Howard County steering committee and this summit is to "improve youth football overall through facilities, coaching education and improving players' medical condition," Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks youth football coordinator Will Dunmore said.

The summit was the start of a three-year program funded through a $150,000 grant from the National Football League, Dunmore said.

The purpose is to find out "how can we increase participation in a quality experience," said Spangler.

"This is called a summit, but we're really at base camp and looking up at where the summit is," Doug Duvall, head football coach at Wilde Lake High School, told the audience. "If we look at how far youth football has come in the county, we know it's going to grow by leaps and bounds."

The county Department of Recreation and Parks became involved in youth football in 2002. In 2000, 440 players registered for youth football in the county. Last season, the number of participants reached 2,276, said Michael Milani, community sports supervisor for the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

"There has been a great support for soccer, baseball and basketball in the past," said Alex Pagnotta, president of the Western Howard County Warhawks and a member of the steering committee. "Now football is starting to come up."

Similar summits will be held in Fort Collins, Colo., Glendale, Ariz., Mecklenburg County, N.C., and a joint partnership of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., in coming weeks.

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