Chicago, suburban football programs see decline in participation

STEAMWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- As students are getting ready to head back to school, it appears that fewer of them are playing football. Some schools are seeing a big decline due in part to fears about everything from concussions to heat stroke.

There is no doubt that concerns about concussions, other types of injuries, have caused decreased participation in football programs across the country. The numbers are down at most area high schools. But coaches and administrators are doing their best to keep the Friday night football traditions alive.

With the first game just a week and a half away, there is a feeling of urgency at many schools around the state, but they are trying to keep the football tradition alive at Streamwood High School.

"It's football. Friday night lights, right? There's nothing like it. There's nothing like the lights being on in front of your school, in front of your community," Streamwood football coach Don Guindon.

That tradition is starting to fade in some circles however. Whitney Young High School had to drop football last season because they didn't have enough players to field a team. This year five more Chicago Public Schools have announced they don't have enough players to field a team. A recent poll by our news partner the Daily Herald and the Sun-Times found football participation has dropped significantly since 2008.

"But the numbers have dwindled over the last couple of years. Students are playing other sports like lacrosse and soccer," said Whitney Young Principal Dr. Joyce Kenner.

Whitney Young, whose alumni include former NFL star Russell Maryland, is planning to bring the football program back this year. Casey Coates plays quarterback.

"Very excited, very excited. I can't wait. Our first game is in 11 days. I just want to play already," Casey Coates said.

But practicing in hot August temperatures has other dangers. The recent heatstroke death of University of Maryland football player 19-year-old Jordan McNair has coaches everywhere making extra sure their players are well-hydrated.

"When it's too hot out, there are mandatory water breaks every 10 to 15 minutes," Guinden said.

Coaches say the equipment and the game is much safer now than it was several years ago. They are hoping that will draw people back to the game.
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