Fayette football wins new gear, teaches safe tackling

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FAYETTE – The Fayette Falcons football team received an equipment grant, providing it with new helmets and shoulder pads this season.

Riddell sports equipment and its brand ambassador, former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, announced the Smarter Football grant winners Wednesday. Fayette was the only Missouri team recognized.

Fayette head coach Roger VanDeZande said the grant is incredible for the program.

“The kids are very happy about it obviously and it made a big change. The rep I spoke to at Riddell said that we had probably just become one of the best equipped teams in our area, maybe in Missouri,” he said.

Riddell is providing the team with new helmets and shoulder pads. 

In a news release, Riddell stated the recipients of the grant “demonstrated to teaching smarter tactics on and off the field.”

Fayette football coaches are “Heads Up” certified. VanDeZande said the program is designed to teach methods to tackle more with the body, not with the head, and make impact safer for players.

There were 1,400 applications, but only 18 won. The number 18 pays tribute to Manning’s jersey number; Manning's contributions increased the number of winners from 10 in 2017 to 18 in 2018.

“The fact that we’re only one of 18 schools is pretty special, but I like the fact that it came from a team effort, our staff and what we’re teaching our kids,” VanDeZande.

The news comes as the CDC issued its first guidelines for childhood concussions Tuesday. There are 19 guidelines designed to help doctors diagnose and treat head injuries, but five key recommendations:

"1. Do not routinely image patients to diagnose mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

2. Use validated, age-appropriate symptom scales to diagnose mTBI.

3. Assess evidence-based risk factors for prolonged recovery.

4. Provide patients with instructions on return to activity customized to their symptoms.

5. Counsel patients to return gradually to non-sports activities after no more than 2-3 days of rest."

Dr. Daniel Slawski, an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in sports medicine, said he does not think the CDC was trying to break new ground with the guidelines. Instead, he said the agency compiled more than two decades of research for a systematic approach to mild traumatic brain injury.

“I think this is getting toward an accepted, unified criteria for treatment,” he said.

Slawski said pediatric head injuries are increasing.

“Whether more are diagnosed because head injuries are noticed more or there are actually more head injuries, that’s up for debate right now,” Slawski said.

However, at Fayette, head injuries are decreasing thanks to a tackle technique. VanDeZande said the program has only seen two head injuries in the last 3 years, and none so far this season. He calls the technique the “hawk tackle,” saying it was made popular by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

“We train a lot with the eyes and feet, and the position the body is in when you make a hit. We’re trying to teach to tackle with your nearest shoulder to one of the closest points to the opposing player,” VanDeZande said.

Slawski said the goal should be 100% prevention of head injuries, even though nothing is 100% preventable.

“Head injuries can be minimized to some extent, with proper gear and proper training,” Slawski said.

Now, Fayette has both. Its coaches are trained to teach safe tackling, and Riddell is providing the team with five-star helmets for head safety. 

VanDeZande also said it is possible to minimize the risk of head injuries.

“It happens to frequently now, in other sports, football, I think, is trying to be a leader in trying to minimize that risk,” he said.

Slawski said Riddell’s equipment grant, the CDC’s recommendations and Fayette’s training are great steps in the right direction.

“These are commendable moves by the industry and coaching,” Slawski said.

VanDeZande said the grant proves no matter the town's size, a lot of good things can happen.