Player safety and concussions have been hot topics in the NFL. Pop Warner football has reacted announcing last week new rules that will be in place this season.
There will be a limit on contact drills to one-third of practice time. Also there is a ban on full-speed, head-on blocking and tackling drills in which players line up more than three yards apart.
Pop Warner will become the first nationwide league at any level of football to restrict the amount of contact players experience, according to a report by ESPN.com.
The new rules hit home for many. Donnovan Hill, a running back of Lakewood Pop Warner, suffered an intense spinal injury last year during the Midget Orange Bowl championship game.
"He's been going to a lot of therapy; he has a long road ahead of him," said Bobby Espinosa, a commissioner of the Orange Empire Conference, that also includes Costa Mesa. "But where there's a will there's a way. We keep praying for him."
Espinosa said he had heard of some coaches using up to an hour for hitting drills. But that will no longer be the case. No more than 40 minutes of contact will be allowed during practices.
The term "contact" means any drill or scrimmage in which players go all-out with contact, such as one-on-one blocking or tackling drills, according to the ESPN report.
"I think the intention is good and right," said Espinosa, who has been affiliated with Pop Warner since 1969 when he began as a player. "You don't need to pound heads for 50 or 60 minutes in practice."
Costa Mesa Pop Warner begins practices Aug. 1. The youth football program has grown over the past four years with leadership from former president Steve Mensinger and a new site at Jim Scott Stadium.
Scott McLeod, in his first year as president, said he has not received the new rulebook for Pop Warner, but he has heard of the news of the new rules.
McLeod said it's a good idea to implement the rules. He also said the new rules will allow more time for concentration on tackling and hitting techniques.
"You see just as many injuries during practice than in games," McLeod said. "You can teach better technique by not using full contact."
Dr. Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon and chair of the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Board, told ESPN last week his committee was swayed by "research suggesting that brains can be damaged not only from the big hits seen more commonly at the high school and adult levels but from smaller, more repetitive, sub-concussive blows experienced by players at all levels."
"There are times when people and organizations have to evolve and, this is that time," Dr. Bailes told ESPN. "For the future of the sport, we need to morph it now and take the unnecessary head contact out of the game. If parents were considering allowing their child to play football, this [move] should assure them."
Bailes said most head injuries occur in practice.