For the sixth time in the last seven years, the number of kids playing high school football across the country is down. That’s not the case in Louisiana, though.
At McDonogh 35, students showing up for the football team is not a problem.
“We got 90 kids out for football, the numbers are growing and right now, at 35, we don’t have enough uniforms,” Coach Wayne Reese joked.
They’ve never had this many kids playing high school football here before and this team is loaded.
In many ways, this is the golden age of New Orleans public school football. Last season, both Karr and Landry-Walker won state championships. They’re both terrific again this season. So are Warren Easton, Carver and McDonogh 35.
“Public schools in the city is on a roll,” Reese said. “I tell everybody!”
And Coach Reese would know. He’s coached at Orleans Parish schools for 45 years. He says they’re very aware of the concussion issue and they don’t ignore it. In fact, they do just the opposite.
Reese said they’re able to get ahead of the concussion question with parents by meeting with them through a program sponsored by Tulane where they address the concerns and what they’re doing to limit concussions.
“You’re never going to hit anybody head on and you’re not going to drop your head and all these kinds of things, that would bring concussions on,” Reese said. “And we’re not going to put bigger kids against smaller kids.”
Every coach we spoke with believes that going forward, the number of recurring head injuries in football will decrease. Young athletes aren’t being taught to run the ball or tackle with their heads down any more. High school football practices look a lot different than they did 20 years ago with significantly less hitting.
The number of kids playing football is not down in New Orleans public or private schools. Jesuit coach Mark Songy says his numbers have been consistent. The same is true in Metairie at Rummel, where Jay Roth has not seen a drop in participation.
“I haven’t seen it, no. If you’re at Rummel and you’re an athletic build, you’re playing football,” Songy said. “The kids wants to play!”
And the kids in the river parishes certainly want to play. Longtime Destrehan coach Stephen Robichaux says his participation numbers haven’t changed in 25 years.
The question is why? Why are some parts of the country seeing a drop, while south Louisiana isn’t?
“I just think it’s the culture,” Robichaux said. “South Louisiana is football.”
Louisiana produces the highest number of NFL players per capita of any state. Football is ingrained in the culture, it’s who we are.
Despite the national trend for high school football, the number of kids playing all high school sports is actually up. And football is still the most popular sport, with just a 2 percent drop across the country.