The winner was American Heritage School which had a terrific profile of their program featured here in USA Today written by Aspen Institute’s Jon Solomon. Read that feature here.
What We Like: Other innovative health ideas by Healthy Sport Index Contest football finalists
- Junipero Serra High School (San Mateo, Calif.): There’s no tackling to the ground at practice all year at Serra, which won a state championship two years ago. The team is now using an app to create individual health and conditioning plans for each player. This allows coaches, athletic trainers, administrators, parents and players to all communicate from one source, reducing the risk of missing key injury information.
- University School (Hunting Valley, Ohio): The football and track and field programs combined to start a conditioning program that now also reaches younger kids at the school. The strength coach visits students from kindergarten to 12th grade and teaches them basic physical movements and tips to be active. The reaction was so positive that the school created a seventh- and eighth-grade summer conditioning camp for all students.
- Lehman High School (Bronx, N.Y.): Working on a shoestring budget in a high-poverty community, Lehman helps players develop emotional and social skills to communicate openly. Seniors have the chance to speak to the team about anything they want. “You’d be surprised how many say they were going to quit because it was so hard, and they express themselves in front of each other,” coach Christopher DiTullio said. “Our goal is to keep them busy, get them tired, and send them home tired. If they’re practicing and staying busy, they’re not in the streets.”
At American Heritage, the sixth-grade tackle football team switched to flag this year because only 15 players came out for tackle in 2018. Stearns didn’t want to lose participants, so she found other private schools willing to change, too. Although flag is popular in South Florida, tackle is still king.
Nationally, high school tackle football in all forms lost about 102,000 players between 2008 and 2018 (a 9% decline), according to the National Federation of State High School Association. Participation is at its lowest mark since 1999, amid growing injury concerns of students and their parents. Florida is a rare state that didn’t lose high school football players over the last decade.
“It’s just a different mentality here,” Smith said.
Though he sometimes struggles with his memory, Surtain said he has no regrets about playing football for 27 years. His son is now a starting cornerback at the University of Alabama. Surtain just elects to coach differently.
“You see things in today’s game, even when they try to make the game safer, where you wish they would play the game the old way, because that’s just your mentality,” Surtain said. “You see these soft hits and they call these penalties, and you’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not real football.’ But the game’s changed. Who knows if it’s for the better? But we know it’s safer, and that’s most important.”
Jon Solomon, a longtime journalist, is editorial director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. Email Jon firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program on Twitter at @AspenInstSports.