The Burlingame varsity football team is experiencing a decline in participation this year at the varsity level, with about 15-20 kids choosing not to return to the team this year, according to varsity head coach John Philipopoulos.
“[Our numbers] have made us better,” senior captain Savaun Brown said. “Everyone has to take reps, and we’re all in a lot better shape because of it”
“Once one person misses practice though, that’s when it starts to hit us hard,” senior captain John Dryden said. We don’t have those numbers, and we don’t have anyone on scout teams, and that’s what messes with our skill level a little bit.”
This downward trend is not quiet unique to Burlingame; high school football participation is dropping throughout the nation.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, “Participation in 11-player football was down 25,901 from the previous year… an overall decrease of 2.5 percent.”
This is the second consecutive year of a 2.5 percent decrease in nationwide football participation, and the increase in concussion awareness is a major factor in this decline.
“I think that there's a lot of information coming from the media about injuries and things of that sort that are maybe impacting people’s opinions about football and whether they want to participate as well,” Philipopoulos said.
Football-related injuries, specifically concussions, have been in the media spotlight for over a decade. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.), a degenerative brain disease linked to chronic head trauma, has been a concern to parents, coaches, and schools across the nation, specifically following the the 2015 film Concussion and the New York Times story called “110 NFL Brains,” following the study of 111 former NFL player’s brains to reveal that all but one had C.T.E.
All this attention to the dangers of playing football certainly does factor into the decline in participation, but it has also had its advantages in making the game safer. In 2014, Assembly Bill 2127 was passed, limited contact practices and set stricter guidelines to prevent concussions.
The legislation also implemented a “graduated return-to-play protocol of no less than 7 days” after diagnosis of a concussion or head-related injury.
Burlingame specifically has made very positive changes in making their game as safe as possible.
“We are fortunate to be in a district is very supportive of athletics,” Philipopoulos said. “District standard is the Riddell flex helmet. It's the best technology, so that's what we are using.”
Burlingame also teaches tackling according to the USA football model, and all but the newest member of the coaching staff are USA football player safety certified.
All of these changes have made a positive impact on head-related injury numbers at Burlingame.
“I think if you look at our concussion numbers they are down,” Philipopoulos said. “Two years ago they were very low. We had a few last year, more than we may have anticipated, and right now I don’t think we have one in the program.”
With all of the changes and new technology at BHS, it’s surprising that numbers are still down at the varsity level. NFHS suggests that this decline points to the growing concerns of parents and players about concussions and other injuries. Philipopoulos asserts, however that Burlingame’s decline may just be an irregularity.
“I also think could be an anomaly. I think that the varsity numbers will be back next year, looking at who we have this year.”