It’s football season, and there are no shortage of opportunities to play in South Florida.
The American Youth Football League offers the chance for children ages 6 to 13 to play in Coconut Creek, Tamarac, Pembroke Pines, Cooper City, Miramar, Fort Lauderdale, West Pines, Weston, Plantation, Delray and Coral Springs.
But more importantly, the AYFL, along with other local leagues like it, offers the chance for young athletes to play contact sports safely.
A recent study by Boston University looked at the brain scans of National Football League players who had begun playing tackle football before the age of 12. They found that those who began playing tackle football between the ages of 10 and 12 were more likely to struggle with cognitive functions such as planning, memory, and reasoning. Those same players were also three times more likely to face “clinically meaningful-depression.”
But the AYFL is taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen to their own players.
“All of our [referees] are background checked. We require a state background check as well as concussion training for all of our refs,” said Joel Greenberg, vice president of the South Florida AYFL.
Each coach must complete and pass an online training course offered by the Center for Disease Control about how to prevent, deal with, and provide medical attention to a young person suffering a possible concussion.
“We would never do anything to endanger our kids, so having that proper training is vital,” Greenberg said. “A lot of our refs are police officers. They know how important that training is.”
Additionally, the AYFL’s concussion policy states that coaches must report any possible player concussions to the league within 72 hours of the incident. The player is not permitted to play until medically cleared by a doctor, and any coach who knowingly plays someone who has not been cleared is subject to game suspension.
The AYFL recently came under criticism from Martin Landin, a member of the Broward County Football Officials, earlier in the season when Landin claimed that the AYFL’s new officiating group, the Chester Smith Jr. Officials Association, were hiring referees who did not meet the AYFL’s standards.
The bylaws state that all referees must be screened before officiating any games.
“I’m confident that many of the officials used did not go through a background check,” Landin said previously.
But Greenberg said the accusation is nothing more than “sour grapes.”
“Unfortunately this is a case of sour grapes on their part,” Greenberg said. “Chester Smith’s organization provided the AYFL with a sworn affidavit that all of their referees that will be working AYFL games have been screened in compliance with the background screening requirements as set forth under Florida law.”
Greenberg’s statements were backed up by two of the men in leadership positions with the Chester Smith organization.
Chester Smith said all of the officials in his organization are required to have level two background checks.
“I have officials who get them through the high school association, law enforcement, or the city of Miami Gardens,” he said.
Robert Smith, who works for the city of Miami Gardens, confirmed this and said that the background checks go back 10 years. They use the person’s fingerprint to check against a national database of arrests, warrants, and past crimes.
“About 45 [officials] have already come and gotten background checked,” said Robert Smith. “You cannot have any violent felonies. The crime will come up even if you have had it expunged [from your record.]”
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