Assessing Declines

December 18, 2018

Participation in high school football on Long Island, N.Y., is declining more quickly than anywhere else in the nation, according to Newsday. While concerns about concussions play a role, local coaches and athletic officials say demographic shifts offer another explanation.

“The biggest thing to me is that demographics on Long Island are changing, and in some communities the demographics are changing drastically,” Pat Pizzarelli, a football coach and Executive Director of Section VIII, said.

Michael Yoo, Head Football Coach at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park, N.Y., and a school psychologist, has coached for the past 10 years, and said gettting players to join the team has become difficult. He said that playing football changed his life, but that many students of Asian or South American descent have not grown up with football, and are thus unlikely to try it.

“It’s tough to make the sell to parents when they hear a lot of stuff about concussions and football when football wasn’t a part of how they grew up,” Yoo said. “I do think the demographics play a significant role. When the conversation just surrounds concussions I think we’re missing the mark.”

Janet Rodriguez, the mother of a football player, grew up on Long Island after her family came from the Dominican Republic. She said families are more likely to participate in the sports that are most familiar to them.

“You go to the Dominican Republic, you don’t see anybody playing football,” Rodriguez said. “They’re all playing baseball. It’s tradition. Kids just learn what all of their family members played. When they get together on weekends for barbecues, they’re playing baseball or soccer. Nobody really plays American football.”

Jericho (N.Y) High School canceled its varsity football program this season due to not having enough players. Henry Grishman, Superintendent, said that while demographic shifts are the most relevant factor behind football's decline in some areas of Long Island, concerns about concussions are the most relevant factor in others.

"If you look at the parts of Long Island where the demographics have not changed, you go into these heavy football districts and their numbers in some cases have started to decline," he said, "but I think the decline is strictly due to health and safety."

Pizzarelli said that if schools are unable to field football teams, it may be prudent to consider discontinuing the sport.

“Maybe it’s time they say they’re not a football school, which is OK, it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Not every school has to have football.”

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