By Greg Price
The initial registration numbers are in for minor football in Taber, and its president hopes to hit the century mark when all is said and done when locals hit the field in the fall.
“We have 43 registered as of today,” said Jason Jensen, president of the Taber Football Association, after attending a board meeting last Wednesday.
With programs in atom, peewee, bantam and high school, the high school program officially starts its pre-season training today, with bantam having a similar start-up date. Players are allowed to register up until Sept. 15.
“Last year we were right around 90 kids where we saw a bit of a drop off where there is a bubble where there doesn’t seem to be a lot of kids. But ideally, where we want to shoot is for 100 kids in the program,” said Jensen.
Growing up in Taber, Jensen did not fit your typical physical profile as an adaptable ‘athlete.’ Sprouting up to six-foot-four and 230 pounds by the time he reached Grade 9, Jensen would grow even further to six-foot-seven and 285 pounds by the time he graduated high school. Jensen found himself a place in football and a feeling of belonging of strong camaraderie with his gridiron family as a defensive lineman and tight end.
“Football is one of the few sports where there is a spot for every kid. There is a spot for the small, fast kid. There’s a spot for the bigger kids who are not fast enough for basketball. They can be a huge contributor to the team on the line,” said Jensen. “For myself, that’s what drew me to the sport. I was a bigger kid and I didn’t excel at other sports. Football was finally a place where I mattered. I don’t know if there is any other sport that creates that bond quite the way football does.”
Given the physical nature of the sport in football, Jensen assures the Taber Football Association does everything in its power to make the gridiron game as safe as possible.
“The fact is, there is no sport out there where head injury isn’t a risk. The approach we take with Taber football is mitigating that risk,” said Jensen. “Unlike what has been done in the past with all sorts of sports, we are actually doing things about concussions and head issues.”
Taber Football Association was ahead of the curve when it came to implementing the King-Devick concussion testing program. The program was implemented by the Taber bantam Rebels football team back in 2013 with other programs soon following suit.
The King-Devick concussion test has three cards that have numbers on them that are spaced in different ways and patterns. You do a baseline time of how long it takes the player to read them before the season starts and the player has suffered no contact. If a player is hit hard during the season and you suspect they may be suffering from a concussion, you pull them off the field and to the sideline, and in less than a minute, you can administer the test.
If the player is out by more than five seconds from the baseline time they had at the beginning of the season, a concussion has likely occurred.
“That protocol is now being used by the CFL and the NFL, and Taber football was doing it four years before they started getting involved in it. The safety of kids playing sports is of the utmost importance to me. I want every kid that plays football in this town to have a positive experience,” said Jensen. “The fact of the matter is, there is no such thing as a safe sport. You can have high concussion rates in rugby, soccer, basketball. You can have them in all the sports. It’s a matter of what can we do to mitigate it. Studies have shown it’s not usually the first concussion that’s the problem. It’s when the kid goes to return to play and suffers another concussion after that and then another one after that. With something like King-Devick, if we can pull them out when they suffer the initial injury, now we have really reduced their chance to have a real serious injury out of it.”
Jensen also added, Taber Football Association goes above and beyond the base requirements for its helmets.
“Our general rule with our helmets is, instead of re-certifing helmets every five years, we are just buying new helmets every year,” said Jensen. “We are always in new helmets and we run high-end helmets. We don’t buy cheap helmets and all of our coaches are certified in safe contact which is a Football Canada mandated course.”
Taber Football Association has also switched up its emphasis on its tackling techniques. Similar to the ‘Hawk Tackle’ technique of the Seattle Seahawks, it was a system that was implemented back in the Seahawks’ coach’s USC days, with Pete Carroll using this system as far back as 2001. Hawk Tackling instructional videos have been sent to 14,000 high school football programs and 8,000 youth football programs in the United States alone, it is making inroads into Canada as well. The college national champion Ohio State Buckeyes adopted the tackling system in 2014.
“It’s a contact method where the biggest thing we push with that is to get the head out of the tackle. We want you putting the head behind the body instead of in front of it,” said Jensen, who is also the head coach of the W.R. Myers Rebels football team. “We are limiting the amount of contact we have in practices. It’s a laundry list of things we have done to mitigate head injuries and we are finding it’s working. I have watched head injuries steadily decline. Last year, I don’t think we had a single concussion in the high school program — that’s big. We know we are doing something right here.”
With parents trying to stretch their recreational dollar to the maximum for their kids, Jensen added football fits the bill.
“Especially in today’s economy, football is a really affordable sport to play now. You don’t have to buy you’re own equipment. All the helmets and shoulder pads, all the necessary equipment is rented out by the program,” said Jensen. “All you really have to do is buy a set of cleats and even really with that, we have a shed full of cleats that have been donated, so we could probably outfit your kid. You can honestly play for just the registration fees.”
For those kids afraid that they have no knowledge of the game, Jensen assured inexperience is not a factor of whether a kid will enjoy the sport or not, no matter how late they get started.
“We will take kids at any time. I’ve had kids last year step in for the first time on my high school program for their Grade 12 year and they were two-way starters and all-star type players,” said Jensen. “If they are willing to learn, we are willing to teach. That’s the beauty of this sport, we will take anybody. There’s a spot for everybody.”
If you would like to learn more about registering for the upcoming minor football season or the Taber Football Association, you can e-mail Jason Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.