The Warwick Police Athletic League youth football teams have began practicing and are inching their way closer to kickoff for the fall season.
PAL has made some adjustments to its alignment this season, including reducing the number of teams to four while also establishing limitless weight classes for each age group.
Although PAL will field four teams, which all roster a solid number of players on each, the league has seen the overall numbers drop. The decrease in numbers, especially in the 5-6-year-old age group, has led to the reduction in teams this season.
PAL is not the only league experiencing lower numbers, as the majority of youth football programs throughout the country have dealt with similar issues. There are a handful of reasons that explain the drop, but the most prominent is player safety.
“There’s been a gradual drop in the numbers over the past few years. You can almost say that it has stemmed from the NFL. There are some safety concerns, parents have shared some concerns. We lost about 20-25 kids from the 5-6-year-old age group but we still have teams with high 20’s, low 30’s,” said PAL’s football commissioner Jack Paliotte, who feels that PAL has been fortunate when it comes to injuries over the past few seasons. “It’s a nationwide issue, the numbers have dropped a little bit. People are concerned with the issues in football. We have very few injuries though, we inspect the equipment and we’ve had very few problems with that.”
Although PAL has had to make adjustments due to the numbers, Paliotte feels that the changes will help create a more balanced and even playing field for the players, especially considering the changes have allowed closer age groups to compete on the same team instead of teams being based primarily on weight.
“We’re fielding four teams this year … we’re changing our schematics. We’ve gone to unlimited weight, because of that it’s kind of like a U-14 or U-12 where you’re only going against a two-age level difference. It used to be that you could have an 8 and an 11 or a 9 and 12. (This system) has been taking over the country, it’s prominent in Rhode Island for sure, especially in the organizations outside of Pop Warner,” said Paliotte.
Paliotte also feels that USA football and the various leagues throughout the country have been working hard to address the issues regarding player safety, and that PAL is prepared for another great season of football.
“All of our coaches are USA certified, they have to be and they take the two-hour course. It teaches the new ways they want you to tackle, the safety concerns on the field, concussions, dehydration, it’s a very involved course,” said Paliotte. “They know the new ways of doing things like not leading with your head when you tackle. Our coaches have to take the test and get certified every year and it really prepares you for any issue that may present itself for the safety of the children … both on the field during games and off of it.”