PORTLAND, Ore. — A new sports league hopes to increase participation in youth football, by reducing the risk of injury.
It’s called Flex Football.
The co-ed, no-tackle sport is similar to flag football, except the kids in wear light padding and soft shell helmets. The goal is giving grade school-age kids a safer option than tackle football, and the risks it poses, like concussions.
“It's really fun once you don't get hit really hard,” said 11-year-old Beau Newman.
Over the last ten years, football participation in Oregon schools has dropped by 17%. At the same time, participation in other sports has increased by 6%.
“We do not want to lose another kid to another sport when he actually loves the sport of football because of concussions,” said John Charles, coach and co-owner of the Portland Metro Flex Football Club.
Charles knows about the risk of injury. The Portland State University Hall of Fame inductee and former Altlanta Falcon, has a mild case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. That’s a brain disease caused by repeated head injuries common in tackle football. He and other Flex Football coaches hope this version of the sport will help teach younger kids how to play properly, to decrease the risk of CTE at a younger age.
“You're taking the tackling away and you're making it safe, and fun, and you're making it developmental for that player,” said coach and league co-owner, Tim O’Leary. “That player can learn their position without the fear of being hit all the time.”
Organizers said this season was just a light intro to Flex Football. They hope to begin league play in March of 2020.
“Bottom line, we want kids to play and have fun,” said O’Leary.