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SG man tackles safety changes in youth football

Rick Graves has been around football most of his life and been an integral part of the Stateline Comets’ youth program for 14 years.

The Spring Grove resident knows the need for education regarding youth sports is an ongoing process and has been chosen to represent the Chicago area at the NFL/USA Football Youth Summit next month in Canton, Ohio.

Graves, vice president of the Illini Youth Football League, attended the Chicagoland Youth Leadership Forum on March 31 at Halas Hall, home office of the Bears. He was selected to attend the Canton summit July 18 and 19 through an essay application.

“My question for the bigger, national audience is, ‘What are we doing to educate our parents?’ ” Graves said. “With a broader perspective, and knowing what is working for us and what is not, we want our league to grow.”

The IYFL has 10 programs from towns in northeastern Illinois, including the Comets, who play out of Richmond, the Hampshire Wildcats, Harvard Stingers, Johnsburg J-Hawks, Marengo Indians and St. Mary’s Fighting Irish from Woodstock.

Perhaps the hottest discussion topic at the summit will be concussion treatment and prevention. Various aspects of prevention will be addressed, from proper helmets and fitting to concussion awareness and management information to reducing hours of contact in practices.

Pop Warner, one of the nation’s most renowned youth football organizations, announced last week it would reduce contact time and try to enforce stricter rules regarding contact in practices.

“[Numbers will drop] if we don’t change the way we coach,” said Drew
Potthoff, former McHenry athletic director and a former high school football coach who serves as IYFL secretary. “I’m glad Pop Warner came out with those rules.”

Graves agrees and believes better education can help.

“What we can’t detect is scary,” said Graves, who is president of the Comets’ program. “It’s all about education. We have to have our coaches know how to handle things [with concussions]. Fortunately, I don’t think [the IYFL] has had any serious, serious injuries, thank God. It’s come a long way.”

Graves said the IYFL tries to err on the side of caution. Paramedics are on hand for games, and the league wants to grant officials the authority to remove players they consider concussed. Several IYFL teams are in the process of setting up concussion testing so players can be evaluated immediately after taking a hit.

“We want to learn what’s good for the kids and what’s good for the sport,” Graves said.

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