High School Sports

Pop Warner to ban kickoffs for younger age groups, hopes to prevent concussions


One of the nation’s largest youth sports organization plans to adopt a major rule change to protect kids from concussions.

Pop Warner announced Thursday it is eliminating kickoffs in its three youngest football divisions, the Tiny Mite (5-7-year-olds), Mitey Mite (7-9) and Junior Pee Wee (8-10) divisions.

Instead of a kickoff, the ball will be placed at the 35-yard line to start each half and following scores. The goal is to eliminate head-on collisions that often occur on kickoffs.

Pop Warner will evaluate the rule and consider implementing it at its older divisions. Pop Warner is also reducing the amount of contact time during practicefrom 33 percent of practice time to 25. The 33 percent rule began in 2012.

“We are constantly working to make the game safer and better for our young athletes, and we think this move is an important step in that direction," Pop Warner executive director Jon Butler said in a statement. "Eliminating kickoffs at this level adds another layer of safety without changing the nature of this great game. We are excited to look at the results at the end of the year as we explore additional measures."

On Wednesday, former Pop Warner star Donnovan Hill, 18, died from complications related to a injury he suffered in 2011 after making a head-on tackle during a Pop Warner game. Pop Warner reached a multi-million settlement with his family this year, after his family sued saying Donnovan’s coaches didn’t properly train him to tackle.

In March, Pop Warner and the family of a former football player who suffered from CTE reached an undisclosed settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit. The player committed suicide at age 25.

Locally, Charlotte Latin football coach Larry McNulty said he isn’t sure the rule will make the game safer.

“I think anytime you’re changing that much of the game, that troubles me a little bit,” he said. “Obviously, everybody’s concerned about being as safe as possible and eliminating concussions every way we can.

“We’ve changed the way we practice, changed the way we tackle, but eliminating kickoffs? That’s a big part of our game. What’s next? Punts? My gut reaction is I don’t know if that will solve the issue. But we as coaches have to examine as many ways as we can to keep this game as safe as possible. It’s a big issue, no question.”

The Associated Press contributed