Team’s competitiveness, concussions discussed
By Erik Buchinger
The Clintonville School Board discussed the school’s football program regarding competitiveness and concussions at a meeting on Monday, Jan. 23.
The discussion stemmed from the agenda topic of conference realignment for the football team.
Board member Jim Schultz asked if football has been a declining sport among high schools in favor of other fall sports such as soccer. In Clintonville, there was an increase in participation among soccer players because it recently became a school-sponsored sport, Clintonville High School Principal Lance Bagstad said.
“I think [Clintonville football coach Scott Werfal] has done an amazing job building that program with numbers,” Bagstad said. “It’s expensive, it’s dangerous, but I think a lot of the numbers are driven by the competitiveness of the program.”
Clintonville finished 0-9 in the 2016 season with an average score of 52-8. Bagstad said more competitive teams in the areas continue to add students to the football team.
“If you go to Kimberly, which has won 48 games in a row and four state championships, kids are going out for football left and right because of the competitiveness,” Bagstad said. “I think there’s a lot of driving forces whether or not programs are sustaining themselves or not.”
Bagstad said the football team had approximately 70 students interested in playing for the football team last season. Though not that many actually participated, the program could have had freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams, Bagstad said.
“Had push come to shove, we probably could have played all three levels, but there would have been 13 guys playing both ways all day long.”
Bagstad said head injuries have an impact on players and their families deciding whether or not to play.
“Obviously the concussion piece has driven some of that with families making decisions of playing football and not playing football,” Bagstad said. “The other piece is the competitiveness of a particular program, and people like to be part of winning programs. I think you can see that around the state where numbers continue to remain strong.”
Board member Ben Huber said the studies in concussion research concern him.
“One of the things that is most concerning to me about the football program is the new evidence coming out about not necessarily the concussion, but the repeated minor injuries,” Huber said. “Even if players have not had concussive injuries, they’re still having brain injuries that will affect them lifelong.”
Bagstad said football can be dangerous, and the decision to let students play football is something some professional athletes do not want to deal with.
“Football is a hit somebody sport, and no matter what the safety equipment is, until you can build a helmet that goes between the skull and the brain, there can be that continual injury even without the concussion,” Bagstad said. “I think that is a part of why you see some kids not playing. You’re even seeing professional players say they’re glad they don’t have sons because they don’t have to have the conversation of playing football.”
Board member Tom Neely asked if the school is maintaining the equipment to the best of its ability to protect the kids.
“When I was an [athletic director] before, and I’ve had this conversation with ADs since I’ve been here is that if we need a football helmet that fits a kid, we find money to pay for it because a $400 helmet is a lot cheaper than a $4 million lawsuit because we improperly equipped a student,” Bagstad said. “Scott is amazing at finding grant dollars to make sure that our football players are equipped with the absolute best and safest equipment he can find. He does a phenomenal job that when kids go on the practice field or the football field on a Monday, Thursday or Friday that they are fully protected with the best possible equipment.”
School Board President Jim Dins said Werfal, who played football at Winona State University, is well-qualified for the position.
“We’ve got the right man for that job,” Dins said.
Bagstad said Werfal has a good combination of knowledge of the game and the importance of keeping high school players safe.
“He understands the sport at the level that he played it, and he understands that the safety has to be the No. 1 concern before he puts kids on the field,” Bagstad said.