Coaches on board with new re­duced contact rule to make sport safer

The News-Times - - SPORTS - By Doug Bon­jour dbon­[email protected]­; @DougBon­jour

Un­der Dave Mas­troianni’s watch, Daniel Hand has re­mained one of the state’s up­per ech­e­lon pro­grams. He’s guided the Tigers to Class L ti­tles in each of his two seasons since re­plac­ing the leg­endary Steve Filip­pone.

Yet, par­tic­i­pa­tion in his pro­gram is ex­pected to drop this fall.

“In 2011 to 2012, we had 70 kids in (grades) 10 through

12. With the fresh­men, we had al­most 100 kids in the pro­gram,” Mas­troianni, a com­po­nent of the pro­gram since 2007, re­called Thursday. “Now, we’ve got 40some­thing kids in 10 to 12 and an­other 20 to 25 as fresh­men.”

Know­ing con­cern about in­juries is mostly to blame for these re­duced num­bers, Mas­troianni is on board with the CIAC’s lat­est plans to make high school foot­ball safer. Start­ing next sea­son, teams will be forced to cut down the time spent on contact drills in prac­tice each week from 90 min­utes to 45 min­utes, as first re­ported by the Hartford Courant.

“Some­body’s go­ing to en­trust me with their son in a sport that in­volves my son and your son even­tu­ally run­ning into each other at a high rate of speed,” Mas­troianni said, “I want some­body to be able to look me in the eye and say, ‘Look, I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing I can through best prac­tices and pro­vid­ing the right equip­ment … to take care of your son like he was my own.’

“I think this is very much a step in the right di­rec­tion of be­ing able to hon­estly look par­ents in the eye and say, ‘OK, I’m tak­ing care of your kid, why now is he not play­ing foot­ball?’ ”

Par­tic­i­pa­tion con­tin­ues to de­cline not just at Daniel Hand, but across the state. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of State High School As­so­ci­a­tions, 9,241 stu­dents (144 schools) played high school foot­ball in 2017, com­pared to 10,815 (147 schools) in 2009 and 9,521 (129 schools) in 1981.

“I think ev­ery­one’s fo­cus is on con­cus­sions, and that’s ob­vi­ously the most im­por­tant by far, but all the other in­juries dur­ing the week that doesn’t allow stu­dent-ath­letes to play in games on Fri­day nights hap­pen lots of times dur­ing prac­tices,” CIAC as­so­ciate ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Gregg Si­mon noted. “You get the bro­ken arm or the sprained an­kle or the torn ACL, what­ever it might be. This clearly will make the game safer in so many dif­fer­ent ways.”

Mas­troianni doesn’t think the new rules should dra­mat­i­cally im­pact teams, say­ing most coaches have al­ready taken steps to limit contact in prac­tice.

“There’s re­ally not much need for tack­ling to the ground any­more, es­pe­cially in-sea­son,” Mas­troianni said. “(For­mer NFL and UConn coach) Paul Pasqualoni, I heard him talk­ing about tack­ling one time, and he said that you shouldn’t be do­ing any drills in full pads that you couldn’t be do­ing in no pads. I think ev­ery­body’s kind of adopted that mantra any­way.”

“We’re ba­si­cally non­con­tact (in prac­tice) the en­tire year,” added Green­wich coach John Marinelli. “We teach the tech­nique, we teach the fundamenta­ls. If you teach a fin­ish­ing po­si­tion over a fin­ish­ing tackle, I think that’s what we prob­a­bly harp on more.”

An­so­nia coach Tom Brock­ett, a mem­ber of the foot­ball com­mit­tee, called the changes a “non-fac­tor,” es­ti­mat­ing a ma­jor­ity of coaches didn’t use the full 90 min­utes to be­gin with.

“It de­pends on the time of the year and dif­fer­ent things, but it’s never a lot, es­pe­cially in one given day,” he said. “I think the im­por­tant thing peo­ple re­al­ize is we still do need some time to have contact.”

A few states had al­ready im­ple­mented rules re­duc­ing contact in prac­tice, in­clud­ing New Jer­sey, where teams are al­lowed only 15 min­utes each week dur­ing the sea­son. Si­mon said the foot­ball com­mit­tee in Con­necti­cut voted 12-0 in fa­vor of in­sti­tut­ing changes.

“With the way the game is, for lack of a bet­ter term, be­ing un­fairly at­tacked right now, I think it’s great to show peo­ple we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can right now. We’re not beat­ing your kids up,” Mas­troianni said. “Gone are your fa­ther’s days and your grand­fa­ther’s days of foot­ball where it was the Junc­tion Boy men­tal­ity, and you’re go­ing to be out there for 10 hours in Au­gust and you’re not get­ting any water and we’re go­ing to give you salt tablets. You’re go­ing to smash each other into the ground un­til our tough­est 11 are stand­ing.

“You don’t de­fine tough­ness like that any­more.”

Catherine Aval­one / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Daniel Hand foot­ball coach Dave Mas­troianni.

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