Youth football, across North America, is receiving more than its fair share of scrutiny. That is the natural fallout of concussion concerns at the higher levels of the game.
And while all those involved with administering the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League in Sudbury have taken a number of steps towards ensuring player safety, the game itself is not about to sustain radical changes that some in the community might envision.
"There is some misinformation out there that we have moved from tackle football and are looking at doing flag football," said JMYFL president Matt Hall. "That's just not the case."
From the executive standpoint, there are a couple of key factors in play when it comes to player safety, starting with the gear that is designed to absorb the brunt of the contact.
"We've always been able to provide the most updated and safest equipment for the kids," said Hall. "That's something we really pride ourselves on, thanks largely to the Kinsmen Club. And we have really invested a lot of time with our coaches, training them in safe contact clinics, concussion protocol, and such."
And then there is the matter of maintaining a healthy perspective about exactly where these young athletes are located on the learning curve of football.
"We pride ourselves on being a developmental league, not only for the players, but also for coaches, officials, anyone that wants to volunteer," said Hall. "That way, we can grow the sport within the community.
"We try and work with both the Gladiators and the Spartans to see what they would like us to focus on, from the early ages, so that when the players get to the different stages it's not nearly as big a transition for these kids. We try and introduce the proper football language, proper plays, developing playbooks that are more simple than the Glads and the Spartans, but that can be built upon once the players are progressing through the various levels. That's what we have been trying to work on for roughly the past three years."
Part of the success in this area comes directly from the man in charge, as Ed Prud'homme balances his role as unofficial director of coaching within the JMYFL with his involvement with coaches and personnel with the Sudbury Gladiators, providing a wonderful link between the two organizations.
"We have a good number of kids coming back to coach, and he really preps these guys," said Hall. "He helps out with the Gladiators' program, so he knows the players that are coming back. We've also tried to put younger coaches with someone who has been in the league for a while to try and mentor them a little bit."
And while he doesn't think that this approach differs drastically from the thought process of those who would oversee the JMYFL for much of its first two decades of operation, there still might be a few differences that are noted.
"I think the message has always been there," said Hall. "I've been involved with the league close to 11 years, and the message has always been the same. I think what has changed in recent years is that we are holding people more accountable."
In terms of on field alterations that might be noticed, there has been a recognition of the need to allow for an easing in period where newcomers can become acclimatized with the sport, while suiting up alongside fellow youngsters who might already benefit from a year or two of competition.
"The first three games are controlled scrimmages, where coaches are on the field with the kids for half the game," saidd Hall.
"That really seems to work for the newer kids, especially, giving the kids a comfort level."
And lest anyone be concerned about the on-going viability of the August to late October loop, Hall noted that plans are already in place to incorporate a few new wrinkles come 2018, as the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League celebrates its 25th anniversary.