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Pop Warner Football started this week, and the new season has some new rules.
Parents and league officials are concerned about concussions, now that several former players of the National Football League are showing signs of long term brain damage from the hits they took while playing.
Pop Warner has instituted changes regarding practice. Coaches say most injuries occur during practice because of the repetitive hits, and players spend most of their time on the practice field.
This season, Pop Warner says every player has to have 20 hours of light-to-no contact drills before putting on shoulders pads and hitting.
Instead of a 5-to-10 yard running start before making contact with each other, players will now line up about 3 yards across from each other to limit the impact.
And two coaches on a Pop Warner team have to be certified in CPR.
The Matthews Athletic and Recreation Association, or MARA, added more rules.
Commissioner Matthew Baker says he raised money to buy new helmets with redesigned shells, shock absorbing cushioning, and ventilation all over the top of the helmet. Baker says, "Ventilation is important for concussions because your head conducts most of the heat. Heat equals fatigue. Fatigue equals injury."
Baker says he also found what's called the guardian, an outer shell helmet lining that parents can buy for players to wear during practice. According to Baker, "The idea of the guardian is to protect, reduce the impact of the helmet."
According to Baker, there were three diagnosed concussions last year and about 20 undiagnosed cases. He says technology isn't the only answer to preventing concussions. He says he implemented another critical rule for this season.
Baker says, "If we have a kid that's playing in a game or practice, takes a hit and is slow to get up, dazed or confused - he's done for the day - taking his helmet off, taking his pads off, he's done." He adds, "Whether the first play or the second to last play – he's coming off."
One of the MARA's sponsors arranged for the players to take baseline concussion tests before the season started. Athletes 10 years and older went online to take a series of cognitive, vision and memory tests to get a score. If one of those players is injured during the season, he has to go to the doctor and get a medical note to return. The athlete also has to take another concussion test, and get the same score as before or higher, before he can return to the field.