Yes, the game builds character

The answer for me is easy since I already have. And I did so with, thankfully, with no regrets.

Numbers have steadily declined in football with more information on concussions and their long-term effects.

Because of awareness, changing rules and better equipment, veteran local coach John Franco has told me the game has never been safer.

At the same time, because the game is bigger, faster and stronger at its highest levels, it does need to continue to refine itself to preserve its future. And it must learn from the tragedies that have occurred during overly-demanding training that recently claimed the life of Maryland football player Jordan McNair.

A couple of years ago, the Mirror (actually, it was Cory) did a story on the subject of concussions and contacted five Altoona Area High School products who played in the NFL – Ed Flanagan, Mike Reid, John Ebersole and the Benson brothers, Brad and Troy.

Each disclosed what post-career injuries they struggle with, but most said if they had to do it all over again, they’d still play football, and not one said he wouldn’t. At the youth and high school levels, however, the game is not as dangerous.

In fact, according to a study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons released last year, concussions occurred at a higher rate in girls sports because girls necks are generally not as physically developed as boys necks.

Football was actually fourth on the list behind girls soccer, girls volleyball and girls basketball.

Is soccer, a sport where kids’ heads aren’t protected but are thrust into crowded, mid-air scrums trying to “head” a pass or shot, under siege?

No, because the band – rightly or wrongly — doesn’t play for the soccer team.

This isn’t meant as a knock on soccer or any other sport. Any sport can be beneficial, and involvement in at least one of them is recommended for so many reasons, accountability and team-building among them.

But football has been and remains a centerpiece to all athletic programs, and with school starting, a welcome fall chill soon to fill the air, there’s nothing quite like Friday night in smalltown USA.

A football team, especially a good one, can set the tone for the school year and unite the community – and God knows we need some unification.

Football also often contributes to a positive toughness, physical and mental, and breeds self-esteem and leadership.

I have two sons. Gino played football in seventh grade. I still think he could have been a cover corner, but he found he enjoyed baseball better.

Adam came along a few years later and had an excellent experience in the Hollidaysburg Area High School program, contributing as a center and becoming one of the team captains as a senior.

His love for the game helped provide a springboard to the NFL, where he works for the Baltimore Ravens as a marketing/football outreach coordinator and liaison to the Baltimore-area high school football community.

Including my good fortune of covering Penn State for 40-plus years, football has been a great part of my life so, of course, I would allow, and even encourage, my sons or grandsons to play.

As many who have had kids play high school football know, there’s something special about a team coming out of the locker room, clumping across the pavement, as one, and taking the field on a Friday night.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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