What to Know
- A New Jersey school district says a dwindling number of players has forced it to drop one a high school varsity team
- West Windsor-Plainsboro's superintendent announced the decision in a letter to parents; he said another school may drop their team next year
- Recent studies link brain injuries to football and say young athletes aren't fully protected from potentially life-threatening injuries
One of the top-ranked high schools in New Jersey has disbanded its varsity football team as the sport continues to grapple with growing concerns from parents about safety.
The decision by West Windsor-Plainsboro Schools comes as youth football teams across the country deal with declining participation rates fueled by such safety concerns, as did funding cuts and demographic changes.
The North High School Knights will play on a junior varsity schedule this year, and the South High School Pirates may follow suit next year, according to David Aderhold, the superintendent of West Windsor-Plainsboro Schools.
"We're the leading edge of a much larger iceberg when it comes to what's coming in youth athletics," Aderhold told the Washington Post, which examined the changing demographics of students in West Windsor.
Of High School North’s 1,500 students, 61 percent are Indian and Asian American. The demographic shift has resulted in less interest overall for the sport of football; “We didn’t grow up with football being part of the culture,” the school’s booster club president, who is Chinese-American, told the Post.
Enrollment in high school football is down 4.5 percent, according to the Post report, which cited the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Recent news reports about the long-term brain injuries associated with football have made parents more cautious about enrolling their teenage sons in the sport.
And in New Jersey, budget cuts to schools have led to the elimination of middle school and subvarsity sports, according to the Post, which reported that North High School was left with only five varsity players this fall. South High School had only 11 players.
Aderhold appealed to three of the state’s high school athletics governing bodies — the West Jersey Football League, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, and the New Jersey Department of Education — to merge the teams of High School North and High School South, but to no avail.
Aderhold criticized the West Jersey Football League and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association in a letter announcing the decision to drop the varsity team this week.
“Despite the significant disappointment that this decision will bring, the HSN Varsity football team continues to face significant participation numbers and cannot risk entering the fall 2017 season undermanned and undersized.” Aderhold said in the letter.
A high school sports study conducted by the Korey Stringer Institute and released this month shows that many individual states are not fully implementing key safety guidelines to protect athletes from potentially life-threatening conditions, including heat stroke.
And most of the brains of deceased football players analyzed in a study of professional and non-professional athletes released last month found the existence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. The disease was even found in some high school players.
CTE is linked to repeated blows to the head, resulting in irreversible changes to the brain, including memory loss, depression and dementia. As of now, the disease has no known treatment.
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.
Over 1 million high school students played football in the 2015-16 season, according to an annual participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations. But participation has steadily decreased since the 2008-09 season.