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Illinois House Panel Halts Bill to Limit Tackling in Youth Football

An Illinois House committee voted on March 21 to table a bill that would have placed a limit on the number of full-contact practices allowed by youth-football coaches.

In the initial bill filed by State Rep. Carol Sente, school boards would have been required to adopt a policy that limited tackling in youth-football practices to no more than once per week. Sente based her legislation upon the growing body of sports-concussion research that suggests student-athletes who return too quickly from a concussion could be at risk of further injury or even death.

The state House's Elementary and Secondary Education Committee amended the original bill to specifically define "full-contact hitting practices" as "full-pad (helmet, shoulder pads, padded pants, and cleats), full-speed, football practice that involves tackling to the ground." Under the amendment, starting May 31, 2014, coaches would have been prohibited from conducting more than two full-contact hitting practices per week during the regular season.

The amendment offered no restriction on the number of full-contact hitting practices during the preseason, but full-contact practices would have been strictly prohibited during the off-season and during summer camp.

While former Chicago Bear linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer threw his support behind the bill, according to the Chicago Daily Herald, not all of the committee members were sold. The committee voted 6-5 in favor of canning the bill on March 20, then followed up a day later by voting 7-5 against the bill, according to the state's legislative website.

Due to a state law preventing bills from more than two passage roll calls, according to the Morris Daily Herald, the so-called Football Practice Hitting Limitation Act has been tabled for the rest of this legislative session.

That's likely to please the Illinois High School Association, which wasn't in favor of the bill's passage.

"Our concern with legislation such as this is while it may be appropriate for NFL or Ivy League, it may not be appropriate for high school leagues," Illinois High School Association Executive Director Marty Hickman said last month, according to the Chicago Daily Herald. He said that such restrictions could prevent youth players from learning how to tackle safely, the paper reported.

Illinois isn't the only state considering putting restrictions on full-contact youth-football practices during this legislative session. A state lawmaker in New York introduced a bill last month that would ban youth-football players under the age of 11 from playing tackle football. The Alabama High School Athletic Association is also examining limiting hitting at youth-football practices to twice a week, the organization's executive director said earlier this month. The AHSAA medical advisory board will be making recommendations next month about the possibility of implementing hitting limits in practice.

High school football presents the greatest concussion risk to male student-athletes, according to the recently updated sports-related concussion guideline from the American Academy of Neurology, with players sustaining approximately 1.55 concussions per 1,000 games. The hardest hits for youth football players typically occur during practice, according to a joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest study released last year.

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