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Associated Press
Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, watches as the votes are posted for his measure that limits the time high school and middle school football players can be engaged in full-contact drills during the Assembly session at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Bill limits full contact youth football drills

– Responding to parental safety concerns, the state Assembly on Thursday passed legislation limiting full-contact practices for high school football teams.

The bill by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, AB2127, passed on a 50-22 vote and now heads to the Senate. It has the support of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees high school athletics.

Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said he was motivated by the growing anxiety from parents about the risks associated with concussions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, writing in support of the bill, said head injuries from football may lead to long-term brain damage and early-onset dementia.

“There are just a lot of parents today who are worried about what happens if my kids get in these sort of sports,” Cooley said in an interview after the bill passed.

The issue has even caught the attention of the White House, which announced on Thursday plans for a May 29 summit about youth sports safety and concussions.

The California bill limits drills involving game-speed tackling to 90-minute sessions twice a week, while prohibiting such full-contact drills in the offseason. It also applies to private and charter schools.

Most coaches already abide by similar rules to protect student safety. “There’s really not a big uproar about this because it really is nothing new for our coaches,” said Brian Seymour, a senior director with the federation.

Seymour’s group also updated its bylaws earlier this month to limit total practice time to 18 hours per week for high school football players.

At the college level, the Ivy League and Pac-12 Conference have reduced full-contact practices to cut down on injuries.

Most of the votes against the bill came from Republican lawmakers and some Democrats questioning whether the issue merits state attention.

“Coaches, the schools, the parents are well-equipped without the state’s involvement to determine what’s best for that team, for their players,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

Cooley responded that his bill only limits certain types of practice and that Texas has even stricter rules. That state, the setting for the popular television drama “Friday Night Lights,” allows just one 90-minute full-contact session a week.

The legislation also references middle schools, although flag football is by far the most common form of the game played at that level in California. Cooley’s bill would not apply to private youth leagues such as Pop Warner.

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