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Sente’s bill limiting football practice contact voted down

Football coaches don’t want state lawmakers telling them how to do their jobs.

On Wednesday, members of the state Elementary and Secondary Education Committee in Springfield agreed, defeating Rep. Carol Sente’s Football Practice Hitting Limitation Act, by a 6-5 vote.

Committee member Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, said House Bill 1205 will come up for a vote again in committee today. If passed, the bill would limit full-contact drills to two days a week and prohibit the drills during the offseason and summer camps.

Under the bill, coaches would have discretion of how much their teams engaged in full-contact drills during the preseason. But they also would be required to complete a certified online concussion training program as a means of being better educated about head injuries.

Wheeler, the mother of five children and the wife of former Prairie Ridge youth football coach Joe Wheeler, said voting the bill down wasn’t about not caring about players’ safety. Instead, it represented opinions on what the state’s role should be in putting limits in place.

It’s the same message Wheeler said she has received from coaches and parents.

“The state of Illinois does not have to be legislating how best to serve the children and coach football – bottom line,” Wheeler said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Let’s take state government out of coaching football.

“The direction of where this is coming from really should be more grass roots instead of government down.”

IHSA officials did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. Last month, IHSA executive director Marty Hickman told Shaw Media that he thought the bill was an example of governement over-stepping its bounds.

It was a message he reiterated in a statement issued Wednesday.

“We are on the same page with Representative Sente on the dangers of concussions, but continue to have a differing viewpoint on how we should address the issue in Illinois moving forward,” Hickman said. “Risk minimization is a high priority for the IHSA and we feel that we have proven at a state and national level that we have effective systems in place to institute quality measures to maximize the safety of our student-athletes.”

Sente, who did not respond to a text message seeking comment Wednesday, said this week that she expected the bill to meet opposition in Springfield. Among the supporters of the bill was former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who wrote in a letter presented during Wednesday’s hearing that “this law would make youth sports unequivically safer.”

Hillenmeyer, whose eight-year NFL career ended after a series of concussions, compared limiting contact among young players to rules that limit a Little League baseball pitcher’s pitch count and the age at which they can begin to throw a curveball. He said not limiting full contact at the earliest stages of youth football could have grave consequences.

“Without [a law] a rogue, wannabe Mike Ditka youth coach will continue to have unchecked ability to overexpose our next generation to harm,” Hillenmeyer wrote.

Sente said this week that she wants the issue to remain on the forefront of discussion and that she was OK with limits being made sometime in the next one to two years. Wheeler said rather than making a law, though, cooperation between IHSA, coaches and others needs to take place.

“There isn’t a coach out there, there isn’t an assistant coach out there, a water boy that wants any child to come to harm,” Wheeler said. “You’re playing a contact sport, you’re signing your child up for a contact sport. You know there are risks going into it.

“But [the bill] failed today because people were in agreeement that the state of Illinois – which can’t even pay its bills – should not telling the IHSA and coaches how to be playing football.”

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