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Most Throw A Flag At Idea High School Football Ban

By CBS 11 Investigator Ginger Allen and Jack Douglas Jr., CBS 11 News Investigative Producer

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Ban high school football in Texas? Seriously? Surely that’s nonsense. Actually, it probably is in the Lone Star State. But it is a movement that seems to be gaining some steam in other parts of the country.

“We believe kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports,” said Boston Neurosurgeon Robert Cantu, one of the leaders in a move to discourage high school kids from playing contact sports, especially tackle football.

The idea is also gaining some yardage in the seaport town of Dover, N.H., where the school board is expected to soon vote on whether to kick tackle football out of the schools.

“I suggest we try to stop the game of football in Dover,” said school board member Paul Butler, who is a doctor.

All this talk of banning high school football, a deeply entrenched tradition in Texas, is based on health concerns – that the game is simply too rough for young players whose bodies are still developing.

It is not a very popular idea for former Dallas Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston, who has taken quite a few hard knocks in his day.

“What are we going to do, wrap everyone in bubble-wrap when we send them out the door in the morning? Things happen in life,” Johnston said.

Things like numerous concussions, even before the age of 12.

“I was hit by a pickup truck. I was hit by a 27-foot sailboat. I dove through a clothesline that had a gas grill behind it,” Johnston said, adding: “I had two (concussions) playing football.”

Johnson, like other experts in the fields of football and health, agrees that more needs to be done to protect young players from sustaining life-changing concussions. That includes safer surfaces to play on, better equipment, neck conditioning and a better way to detect a concussion on the field.

Mary-Ann Precht remembers watching her son, 17-year-old Jarrod Snell, suffer multiple concussions two years ago while he played quarterback for Keller High School. “The last play they snapped the ball to him and he just watched it go by and the quarter was over,” Precht said.

But neither she nor her son believes tackle football should be banned from Texas high schools. “I think I had some of the best times of my life playing football,” said Snell, who has been told he will never be able to play contact sports again.

It’s cases like Snell’s that is prompting Boston neurosurgeon Cantu to say, “We believe they should not be playing tackle football. They should be playing flag football and learning the skills of tackling … but tackling dummies, not bashing bodies and bashing heads.”

Dr. Sandra Chapman, founder of the Center for Brain Health in Dallas, has looked at minds under microscopes for 30 years. But she does not agree with banning contact sports in high school. “We can do so much to heal kids …regardless of what sport it is,” Chapman said.

North Texas surgeon Kimberly Mesera, however, agrees with such a ban.

“We should not have young children that are young athletes under the age of 12 to 14 playing contact sports,” Mesera said. “Their brains, their fingers, their bones are not meant to take that force,” she said.

CBS 11 News contacted five area hospitals for comment on whether contact sports should be taken out of high school, but only Mesera came forward in support of the ban. Asked why, she said, “I feel strongly as a mom, which helps influence my medical opinion too.”

Asked whether a ban may one day catch on, even in Texas, Mesera said confidently: “Absolutely. I’m certain of it.”

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