Strecker's trying to drum up interest in football and dispel some myths

Waterford – It is called Argumentum ad nauseam: the logical fallacy that something becomes true if repeated often enough.

Example: A concussion is inevitable, if one decides to partake of high school football.

Clearly, it’s being repeated enough, given the declining participation numbers nationally. The New York Times reported recently that since 2009, when a record 1.14 million athletes participated in high school football, the sport drew 1.03 million participants by 2017. In New Jersey, an erstwhile haven for the game, 1,700 fewer kids played last year.

What is fiction?

What is fact?

We can show up at Waterford High on Thursday night to find out.

Waterford coach John Strecker has invited Dr. Stephanie Alessi-LaRosa, the new head of Sports Neurology for Hartford Healthcare, for a seminar at 6 p.m. in the auditorium. “Concussion: Fear vs. Fear” is free to the public.

“A lot of people are interested in it because it’s timely,” Strecker said Monday night from the turfed lawn of his football field, where an encouraging number of about 30 kids participated in the summer conditioning program. “I think a lot of kids out there are not playing football because of the concussion thing. I personally believe it’s gone beyond the point of reason, to the point of hysteria.

“I had a conversation with a parent earlier this year. It was about 15 minutes long and I got about two minutes of talking in. I heard the name Junior Seau like 12 times. Junior Seau played football for 28 years in an era where you got your second concussion two plays after your first. It’s not the same game.”

Strecker said this idea spawned after talking to town youth football coaches, discussing ways to increase participation in a sport that hasn’t captured the fancy of the townsfolk. Basketball (two straight state championships), baseball (two state titles in the last three years) and lacrosse (reigning ECC champs) are the envy of the region with no participation issues. Not so much with football, still the most romantic high school sport of them all. Remember: Somebody wrote “Friday Night Lights” for a reason.

“The two big things holding us back as far as numbers is the fear of concussions and that we’re not consistently competitive,” Strecker said. “That’s the chicken and egg thing. Look around. (Quarterback Ryan Bakken) is the only guy on the baseball team who’s out here. There are enough guys on the baseball team and basketball team that I could sure build a football team with. They don’t play. We need them. If you want to wait till we get good to come out and play, you might graduate and leave.

“If we can get five or six more kids who want to play because they’re not afraid of being permanently brain damaged … these are the conversations I have. ‘My kid gets hit in the head and he won’t be able to pass his SATs.’ I got hit in the head a lot. I did OK.”

Strecker has attended several clinics this offseason, particularly at Ivy League schools, where practices are being modified to reduce contact.

“At Dartmouth, for instance, they no longer have contact in practice,” Strecker said. “We’re not doing that anymore either. Waterford kids are not going to tackle Waterford kids anymore in practice. It cuts down on about 70 percent of the contact.”

Strecker is also looking into what he called the “Madison Model,” where the town’s youth football program has married flag and tackle football. They live block but flag tackle, thereby teaching the principles of blocking as a means to combat one of the criticisms of flag football. Smarter and safer.

“We’re talking to our guys about it,” Strecker said. “It wouldn’t be terrible to be like Madison.”

Madison is home to Daniel Hand, the 13-time state football champs.

Say this much for Strecker: He’s trying. And he’s gathered some interest for Thursday night. Maybe we could all meet him in the middle. Don’t let Dr. Alessi-LaRosa preach to the choir. If you’ve ever wondered about concussions and football — and if you have a kid interested in playing — here is your chance to learn from someone with her doctorate in the field.

“I believe football is something that can really help a kid,” Strecker said. “If they’re not playing because they’re afraid of concussions, it’s kind of like not letting your kid get a driver’s license because Dale Earnhardt hit the wall.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

 

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