Pop Warner Coaches Suspended After Five Concussions in a Single Pee-Wee Football Game

How many really hard hits would your team have to take before you decided to call it a day? Even after pulling three players off the field after head injuries, and no longer having the required number of players to remain on the field, Erik Iller, coach of the Tantasqua Braves still did not forfeit the game, reports the Boston Globe.

By the end of the game, five boys aged 10 to 12 had sustained concussions. All of the injured boys played for the Tantasqua Braves. The score was 52-0, in favor of the opposing team, Southbridge Pop Warner, coached by Scott Lazo.

Why didn’t any of the officials — or really, any adult with a pulse — step in?

Since that Sept. 15th game, all of the injured boys missed some school, and one has not returned to the field. Tantasqua filed a complaint after the game, alleging violations of weigh-in procedures, the mercy rule, and player safety. However, a lengthy hearing by Central Massachusetts Pop Warner ruled that the Tantasqua staff shared responsibility for the injuries.

Ultimately, the hearing committee suspended the coaches of both teams for the remainder of the season, reports the Globe. The three officials working the game have all been permanently banned from the organization. In addition, the association’s presidents, Doug Lazo (Coach Lazo’s brother) and Jen Iller (Coach Iller’s wife) were placed on probation through the 2013 season, because they attended the game and failed to take action.

“Having multiple concussions in one game is something that should never happen, ever,” said Patrick Inderwish, president of Central Mass. Pop Warner, told the Globe. “One concussion is too many.”

He said the hearing committee attributed the injuries to “bad officiating and decision-making by the coaches and all other parties involved.”

“That game doesn’t represent what Pop Warner stands for in any way,” Mr. Inderwish said.

Hey Football Coaches, are YOU tough enough to do the right thing for your players?

Accusations fly between parents and coaches in a New York  Times report, with some accusing Southbridge’s players of deliberately trying to injure Tantasqua’s players. Southbridge Pop Warner’s website blares jock rock while proudly proclaiming that its motto is “Are You Tough Enough.”

In turn, Southbridge’s coach Scott Lazo, accused the Tantasqua coach of not properly training his team and jeopardizing them by not forfeiting.

“If you lost that many players, you should have called a timeout and come seen me,” Lazo told the New York Times. “My team is not dirty. All the issues were on their side of the field. This is a football game, not a Hallmark moment.”

OHMYGAH you stupid grown-ups. First off, I am sure that 99 percent of the adults in attendance know how many players you need to play a football game. I am sure that they all saw five kids get pulled off the field. I am sure they all saw that the Southbridge team was completely overpowering the Tantasqua team.

Coaches like both Mr. Lazo and Mr. Iller are what gives youth football a bad name. Both coaches put being “tough enough” ahead of the safety of children. Yes, I appreciate the camaraderie and traditions of football. But I also see coaches reliving their glory days through their kids. I see coaches who encourage boys to be “tough enough” because that’s how they learned, and dammit, if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for these kids.

And I see kids getting concussions. These boys are 10 to 12. How many concussions will they have had by the age of 18? High school athlete Eric Pelly had already developed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) by the time he died at age 18, following a concussion.

The state of Massachusetts has had a “Lystedt Law” in place since 2010 that requires coaches and staff be trained about concussion and injury prevention, that athletes are pulled from the game if a concussion is suspected, and that the player receive medical clearance to return to play. The problem? It only covers school sports, not private organizations like Pop Warner.

However, according to its website, the Pop Warner organization follows the “Lystedt Law,” as well as the guidelines put forth by the NFL and USA Football, which advises “when in doubt, sit them out.” Certainly, the injured players were pulled from this game. The problem is that the game continued on after the first three players were pulled, even without enough players on the Tantasqua side.  Two more concussions occurred after that.

Rules and laws on youth sports safety are only as good as the adults who are supposed to follow and enforce them. Coaches like this need to man the hell up and do what’s right for the players. I feel terrible for the many, many youth football coaches out there who are doing the right thing week in and week out, only to see the sport tarnished like this.

You want to raise your kid to be tough? How about being tough enough as a parent to step up and pull your kid from a game where he’s being railroaded? How about being tough enough as a coach to forfeit a game when your players are dropping like flies? How about officials being tough enough to do their damn jobs?

(Photo Credits: iStockphoto, Southbridge Pop Warner)

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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