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Initiative takes aim at ‘targeting’ concerns

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Throughout the past couple years, the NFL and NCAA have taken steps to reduce concussions and head injuries by levying penalties for “targeting.”

Now, the national high school governing body is following suit.

The National Federation of State High School Associations recently defined targeting as “an act of taking aim and initiation contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders.”

“I think any initiative that revolves around player safety is a good thing,” Columbus North coach Tim Bless said.

“I think that anything that aids in the safety of the game and helps officials administer the safety of the game is a good rule,” Columbus East coach and athletics director Bob Gaddis said.

Gaddis said high school football has placed an emphasis on spearing in the past few years, and he can see a difference in kids keeping their heads up when tackling.

“I think it’s been cleaned up,” Gaddis said. “Coaches are doing a good job of coaching it, and obviously, the officials are making it a point of emphasis. I can remember it called maybe once in the last five years. I think that goes along with teaching kids the correct way to tackle.

“I think this all goes along with the movement to make football safer as far as the training, and it starts at a young age,” he said. “I think this will send a message to train kids properly and not take the game out of context.”

Bless and Gaddis operate the PAAL youth football camp together each summer and teach good, fundamental tackling.

“At our youth camps last year, we taught heads-up tackling,” Gaddis said. “I think at an early age, if you can teach kids that the helmet is for protection, not to be used as a weapon, I think that carries over.”

“Even before USA Football came out with their Heads-Up Tackling initiative, that’s something we certainly worked hard at in our youth camps from the ground level, on up,” Bless said.

The Indiana Football Coaches Association has partnered with USA Football in its Heads Up Tackling Program. Indiana was the first state to endorse it, and now several states are on board.

“USA Football is a way to help administer and teach youth league coaches, but there’s a lot of things in what they do that can be taken into high school,” Gaddis said.

The NFHS also defined a defenseless player as “a player who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury.”

“I don’t think it ever happens intentionally, but there’s always helmet-to-helmet contact in football,” Bless said. “There’s always bodies moving and changing levels. But this will help. It puts that much more emphasis on fundamental tackling, which a lot of coaches emphasize anyway.”

“The football rules committee’s actions this year reinforce a continued emphasis on minimizing risk within all phases of the game,” said Brad Garrett, assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association and chair of the NFHS football rules committee.

Bless said the changes are welcome in the midst of studies that have shown lasting effects from concussions and head injuries.

“Our game is kind of under attack right now,” Bless said. “I think it’s important for young men and for parents to see that the game is becoming safer.”

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