Debate: Does varsity football belong at Horace Mann?

Adam Frommer and Avi Kapadia

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The school is one of the safest possible places to play football, Assistant Athletic Trainer Amy Mojica said. “If you want to play football, this is where you should want to play.”
According to a study conducted by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), high school football has the most head injuries out of all high school sports with approximately 11.2 concussions per 10,000 games and practices. These concussions can force students to miss classes for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
Despite these concerns, the football team never discussed the long-term cognitive effects of playing football during his tenure on the team, Zach Brooks (12) said. Brooks played freshman, sophomore, and junior year, but is no longer on the team this year due to the dangers of the sport as well as having a large workload, he said.
High school player football participation has dropped 6.5% from 2010 to 2018, a Forbes article said. This year, the team had around 40 members, which is lower than usual for the school, Varsity Football Head Coach Matthew Russo said.
“The impression might be out there that the program is trending downward but we are actually in pretty good shape,” Russo said. He believes the numbers should be rising once again.
Football remains popular within the Ivy Preparatory league. Including Horace Mann, six out of the eight league schools continue to field football teams, with Trinity and Collegiate as the exceptions.
The school has taken serious safety precautions in terms of equipment and practice techniques, member of the Varsity Football team Isaac Baez (11) said.
“We have top of the line helmets that have sensors in them that act as a second set of eyes to track potential big hits, Mojica said. “We have a dedicated athletic trainer that sticks with football so he knows all of the ins and outs of how the players act and behave, so if there are any differences, he can spot them.” she said.
Meanwhile, a report by Frontline suggests that the use of NFL standard helmets could still leave players with a 95% chance of sustaining a concussion.
The school uses USA football tackling techniques that limits the use of head-on contact during games, and “hit restrictions” only allow the players to participate in live contact once a week for under thirty minutes, Mojica said.
When Jack Klein (11), member of the team, first learned to tackle eight or so years ago, the style of tackling was completely different in terms of where athletes put their head in relation to the opponent’s body, he said. Now, the goal is to avoid head contact, Klein said.
“I really don’t think it is that dangerous,” Klein said, referring to the sport. “I’ve never been injured playing football in any way that has damaged me.” he said.
For Nick Potash (12), another member of the Varsity Football team, the buzz around football is out of proportion. “Soccer, statistically, is more dangerous for [concussions], fun fact,” he said. “People think of football as the sport where you will get a head injury, but at Horace Mann and high schools around the country, that’s not necessarily true.”
“There is education for the student athletes and parents so that everyone is aware of and watching for any signs and symptoms,” Mojica said. Each coach is highly trained, first aid and CPR certified, and the school hires an ambulance for every game.
In practice, the team tries to avoid physicality as much as possible, and the coaches try to make sure that high risk only occurs during games, Potash said.
Football is a sport that fosters community and a team mindset above all else, Klein said. “I think you have to work together more so than in any other sport, and all of that makes it a great team game and a great game to play as an individual.”
However, there is some debate over whether football should be a sport within our community. Jordan Ferdman (11) doesn’t believe that students have the ability to make that decision. “There is a difference between making a choice for yourself at age 18 and making a choice for the rest of your life,” Ferdman said.
There is plenty of debate throughout the school over whether football should exist at the school, and proponents of the team argue that students should be at least given a choice to play.
“Everyone has their own threshold of what they are willing to accept, and that should be their choice,” Klein said. “If you are afraid to play it, that is up to you, but I think that just because you don’t think it is safe doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to play it.”
Everyone on the football team knows exactly what they are signing up for, Potash said. “When I chose to play football, I chose to play a very physical sport, and that’s just how it is.”
“It is really important to appreciate everyone’s extra-curricular activities, especially because Horace Mann can feel like an environment in which you are really valued by your academic achievement, Yana Gitelman (11) said. “Appreciating people for whatever they do is important.”
For Klein, it really comes down to the freedom to choose. “The school could not allow us to do a hundred things that are dangerous,” Klein said. “If you start saying that you can’t choose to do things just because they pose a danger to yourself, where does that stop?” he said.
Brooks said that a football team fits within the school’s core values. “To say that [football players] are dumb brutes is not fair to them,” Brooks said. “Horace Mann is about expanding your horizons.”
Nonetheless, football can be dangerous to play. During and after the games, players have to be alert and take care of their bodies, Jonas Jacobson (11), a member of the Varsity Football Team said.
Brooks thought everybody on the team got injured in some way last year. The minor bumps and bruises of football are constant, he said. “When you get home after practice and everything hurts, those have weight too.” he said.
A former member of the team, Oliver Lewis (10) has a parent who didn’t support his playing because it was dangerous. “This year, one of my best friends at school got a concussion,” Lewis said. “It’s scary. And then, two weeks later, my other best friend on the football team got a concussion.” he said.
When Baez injured his leg and could no longer play, he learned how much he loved the sport. “I just didn’t enjoy much of anything else when I was not able to play.” Baez said.
Zach Brooks’ younger brother Corey Brooks(10) is on the Varsity Football team. “Obviously I am worried for him, I want him to make sure that he’s safe,” Zach said. “And I’d be lying if I said that every time that he says that he’s going to start in a game I’m not at least a little concerned. I know how stressful it was for me, and I didn’t even get a head injury.” Zach said.
There are certain parts of the game that are inconsequential and unsafe that could definitely be taken out, Potash said. During kickoffs, people tend to get injured the most, and the play doesn’t really matter. “Taking plays out of the game where people get hurt for no reason, I’m all for. Why should I get hurt for literally no reason when it won’t matter to the rest of the game?” Potash said.
Lewis though doesn’t believe that you could fix football by making it safer. Doing so would change the essence of the game, he said.
To effectively play football, it is important not to think of the dangers of the game, Potash said. If you play football scared, you’re going to get hurt, he said.
“Combat sports have been a little bit around for thousands of years, and I think it’s part of our culture,” Zach Brooks said. “I think that they’re just not going to go away because there’s a risk associated with it.”
Football has a historical American significance that students wish the school fit into a little more, Gitelman said. “It is nice to have something that feels quintessentially high school,” Ferdman said. “But the costs outweigh the gains.”