Clayton High School and Brentwood High School made the choice to merge their football teams for the 2023 football season due to low numbers according to KSDK, showing that small school districts are struggling to put together football teams.
Football is a sport with a long-standing history at Webster Groves High School, with traditions such as Turkey Day, which has been celebrated since 1907. However, Webster football has suffered decreased numbers in the past due to concerns surrounding head injuries.
“We did see a drop. Probably our lowest numbers were right around that time in the last 2010s…the numbers have started to pick back up,” Collins explained.
The drop in numbers was the followed by a 21-game-long losing streak for Webster, which was broken in the game against Northwest High School on Oct. 14, 2022, with a score of 27-13.
The win from last year has left seniors like Henry Brewer ready for the 2023 season. “We had a good scrimmage and jamboree against some good teams, but we’re still working hard. Even though we improved a lot there’s still way more we can do. We’re not 100% yet, but we’ll get there.”
While Brewer is ready for the season, he reflects on how his mom reacted when he began playing the sport.
“At first my mom was really concerned, but it took just a little bit of convincing. She asks about me sometimes, but she’s cool with me playing,” Brewer said.
While football is still top-rated at the college and professional level, in the late 2010s controversy over head injuries in football led to decreasing numbers.
When the debate started, the sport of football had to adapt and change to become safer and more marketable for athletes to play. These changes mainly involve tackling style and a better understanding of head injuries.
“I think for being a collision sport, it’s always going to have an element of risk of injury. Potentially serious injury…you’re never going to get the risk completely out. I believe football has become safer,” activities director Jerry Collins said.
The risk of head injuries has had a large effect on the growth of youth football. The Aspen institute’s State of Play report shows that participation in tackle football for athletes ages six to 12 went down 18% from 2020 to 2021.
When discussion began around the safety of football, the game began to adapt and change to be safer.
“One thing is the emphasis on taking the head and neck out of everything. Whenever I was playing, you would always hear that when you’re trying to tackle someone get your head across. Now, you know people are venturing more towards the rugby style of tackling where it’s a shoulder tackle; your head’s behind the play and not necessarily involved,” head football coach Connor White explained.
White also talked about how athletic training surrounding football has developed. “You hear the old saying like, ‘Oh I got my belt rung,’ Well, a lot of people thought that was just something that went away. Now we’re a lot more educated and informed on what concussions are, so we can kind of ID [identify] those symptoms better and make sure if somebody does have concussion-like symptoms, we make sure we get them out of the game and out of that situation.”
White said he does see how the decrease in youth numbers could affect the high school level. “I think the big thing that we need to do as a program is getting parents more informed and comfortable with our feeder program, because I’m as big of an advocate for football as anybody, but if I don’t trust or know our youth level coach, I would never have my son play football unless I know that he’s being taught correctly and safely.”
“I think once parents see how we’re teaching football and how we practice football I think they would be a lot more comfortable with the precautions and everything we’re doing to make it as safe as we can,” White explained.
Collins noted other factors that might contribute to decreasing numbers in football. “If you think about several years ago, there weren’t as many clubs or other things. Club soccer, club lacrosse, club basketball, club whatever. The one sport that doesn’t really have a club element is football and those other club sports… They go year-round these days. So if a student is playing club baseball, club lacrosse…they have to make a choice to play football,” Collins explains.
“Another thing football has working against it is all those other club sports start playing at five, six, seven…whereas you really don’t start playing football until maybe middle school,” Collins said.
This will be Sam Klein’s first year on ECHO Staff, but she also made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year.