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High school football title games to stay in Rutland this fall

MONTPELIER — The championship games for all three high school football divisions will be played at Rutland High School again this year, on Nov. 12, even though Castleton State University offered up Spartan Stadium.
Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, announced the schedule on Thursday when speaking to sports journalists at the VPA’s annual Media Day.
He said the Vermont Interscholastic Football League committee, not the VPA, voted to make that choice, citing the many volunteers at the Rutland school who have helped the event run smoothly there in the past three years.
The stands and press box are smaller in Rutland, however, leaving many fans to stand on the hillside overlooking the field of play and some broadcasters to set up shop in the stands and hope for good weather.
The host Rutland football team prevailed in this past November’s Division I championship game, defeating Middlebury.
Rutland also hosted the 2013 and 2014 D-I championship games, both won by the Tigers. Castleton had hosted in previous seasons.
Johnson this past Thursday also addressed the VPA’s decision to mandate that all Vermont high school football programs follow USA Football’s Heads Up program safety guidelines. A number of Vermont teams, including Middlebury and Otter Valley, have already adopted the Heads Up program.
After the VPA announced that decision this summer, The New York Times published a story that analyzed data presented by USA Football and its parent organization, the National Football League, and concluded the Heads Up program does not in fact prevent concussions, as the organizations had claimed.
According to theTimes, the claimed benefit of a 30 percent reduction in concussions was untrue, and, “The drop in practice injuries among Heads Up Football-only leagues was 63 percent, but combined with in-game injuries, the total reduction became about 45 percent,” not the 76 percent that the NFL and USA Football had stated.
But Johnson noted that there remained the positive of injury reduction. And he said the other provisions of the Heads Up program — including educating coaches in proper equipment fitting, training players in safer blocking and tackling techniques, and insisting at least one member of each team’s staff is trained as a “Player Safety Coach” to help ensure the program is followed — are valuable tools to protect student-athletes.
“From our perspective it was never about reducing concussions,” said Johnson. “It was about creating a safer game.”
Vermont already has a state law establishing concussion protocols, and Johnson said the other benefits of the Heads Up football program make it worthwhile.
“We still felt this was a very valuable program,” he said.
The Times article also noted that a study on a Pop Warner Football safety program had shown it was effective in reducing concussions as well as other injuries, and Johnson said the VPA and its colleagues within the Vermont Interscholastic Football League would be looking into that program.
“We want to get some more information on that,” he said.
Johnson said he expected, at least over time, new rules for football games and practices to make the game safer, citing the possible elimination of punt and kickoff returns and a ban on full-contact practices, something the Ivy League has recently adopted.
“I think that you’re going to see some more changes coming to football in the next couple years,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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