FOOTBALL IN SUMMIT
By: Gil Owren, SHS Class of 1958
Playing football for the Summit Hilltoppers under Coach Howie Anderson was one of my highlights while growing up in Summit during the 1950s. The experience taught me important life skills, including the value of teamwork, the importance of discipline, the advantage of proper conditioning, how to make decisions under pressure, displaying good sportsmanship, and testing my courage when faced with stiff competition during games.
Sixty years later, the current safety concern about the effects of playing football in the NFL is reaching the high school and youth tackle programs across the country. While the long-term safety concerns may be legitimate at the NFL level, there is a sharp distinction between playing in the NFL and playing football at the youth and high school levels. In researching this topic I found studies that support my opinion, including the results of two very recent studies.
In January 2017 the Mayo Clinic, a world-class team of over 330,000 doctors, scientists and researchers, published the results of a study, High School Football and Late-Life Risk af Neurodegenerotive Syndromes, 1956-1970. This Study was conducted to assess whether athletes who played varsity football between 1956-1970 at the public high school in Rochester, Minnesota have an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases later in life. The study identified 296 varsity football players and 190 athletes who played other varsity sports. The Mayo Clinic concluded, "Compared with nonfootball athletes, football players did not have an increased risk of neurogenerative diseases overall or of the individual conditions of dementia, parkinsonism, and amyotrophic internal sclerosis."
In July 2017 American Medical Association published the results of a similar study, Association of Playing High School Football With Cognition ond Mental Health Later in Life. Using data from a Wisconsin Study of men who played high school football and graduated in 1957, the AMA reported " ... there was no statistically or clinically harmful association between playing football in high school and increased cognitive impairment or depression later in life."
Over the last 50 years, I have had the privilege and pleasure of coaching Summit football at every level. Rest assured that playing football in Summit is safer today than it has ever been. Consider the following safety precautions:
1. Every player must pass a physical examination conducted by his own doctor prior to participating.
2. All Summit Youth Football coaches must complete a course, Youth Tackle Football, and receive certification from USA Football before coaching. All Summit High School coaches must have a teaching certificate and successfully complete numerous courses related to football player safety.
3. Recent N.J. Laws passed by the state legislature to implement more stringent safety standards, especially relating to concussion protocol.
4. Each year High School Football Rules are reviewed and updated to better address player safety.
5. Several years ago, the Summit Board of Education adopted a policy for the prevention and treatment of injuries, including a detailed protocol relating to concussions. The Summit High football program has approximately 90 players grades from 9-12. During the 2016 season 3 players suffered concussions and 4 players experienced concussions during the 2017 season. These players followed the concussion protocol and returned to practice when they were cleared. It should be noted the number of concussions in football is similar to the number of concussions in other sports at Summit High School, including men's soccer and men's lacrosse.
6. Safety measures have increased for all levels of tackle football. At the youth level, Summit Youth Football has instituted flag football for grades K-5. Tackle football starts for grades 6-8. Summit Youth Football fields 3 teams (6, 7, & 8) in the Suburban Youth Football League, playing one game each week against teams from surrounding towns. The upcoming season marks Summit's 481h year of participation in League play. League rules restrict practice time and all coaches must be certified, as mentioned above.
7. At the high school level, practice time has been reduced and the amount of contact during practices has also been decreased to increase player safety.
8. Summit's Overlook Hospital is one of two hospitals in NJ that has a Center for Concussion Care. A certified trainer is assigned by the Center to attend every Summit Youth Football home game. A team doctor, familiar with concussion protocol, is at every high school game. A certified trainer is also at every high school game and available for every practice. It should be noted that Summit High School has two certified trainers who are full-time staff members.
9. Prior to the 2017 football season, the mothers of Summit's five captains helped raise $35,000.00 to purchase new, upgraded helmets for the 2017 season. They replaced helmets that were fully certified, but the new helmets were an improvement from standpoint of player safety.
10. For the 2018 season, Summit plans to purchase a protective cap that is worn over the helmet during practice for additional player safety.
Enhanced safety equipment and measures require funding. The community of Summit, led by the Summit Board of Education, Summit's Department of Community Programs, parents, and the Summit Football Alumni Association, has always made sure that our young men have the safest possible environment to enjoy playing the game of football in Summit.
2/5/2018 11:56:57 am
Gil, I think this is a fantastic article and I can't begin to describe how proud I am to be part of the Hilltopper football tradition.
2/5/2018 02:43:27 pm
Coach Gil, thank you for your factual and common sense blog. There are risks of injury with all sports. As the mother of a Summit Football player from 2010-2016 I can say first hand the benefits for our boys far outweigh the risks. They learn invaluable lessons about teamwork, discipline, self-reliance, hard work, tradition, and pride. My son went on to play college football from the program. The coaching and training staff is outstanding at SHS. The care and concern the players receive when injured is excellent. The improvements made to safety equipment are wonderful. Thanks for all you do with the alumni to keep the traditions of this wonderful football family!
2/5/2018 02:50:03 pm
Coach Gil, this is a great article and thank you for addressing. You have always been a wonderful mentor to the team. Having three boys that have gone through the Summit football program, I can honestly say how comfortable I have always felt about their safety playing the sport. Being a Hilltopper football player has taught them hard work, commitment, patience, perseverance, organization, discipline and focus. Football has always been a source of pride and accomplishment for my boys. These are all skills every parent wishes for their child for success in life – GO HILLTOPPERS!
2/5/2018 04:43:39 pm
Gil, Thank you for your thoughtful and well researched comments. While there are risks playing football, I firmly believe the benefits of outweigh them. Like you, I learned many valuable lessons playing for the Hilltoppers, including the importance of teamwork, patience, persistence, discipline, goal setting, communication and dealing with adversity. I want commend the Summit high school and youth programs for putting the safety of the players first. It’s a great day to be a Hilltopper!
2/5/2018 06:12:59 pm
Coach Gil, thank you for thoughtfully addressing this concern, and for your continued dedication to our boys. When parents ask me why I let my son play football, my response is always the same, “Thank God I let my son play football!” Both my boys are involved in multiple sports, but football is different. Football teaches the ideals of teamwork, loyalty, commitment, perseverance, and hard work like no other sport. The Summit coaching staff invests so much in our boys, not just to improve their performance on the field, but more importantly, to build tremendous character in each young man. In the course of 4 years, they become leaders, on and off the field. When my son walked off the field after his last game, he knew that what had been a highlight in his life since 4th grade was over; he would never play football again. But he also knew that the friendships he had developed would last a lifetime, and he knew that his experiences on the field would serve him well as he takes on new challenges. I will be forever grateful that my boys were part of the SHS football program!
2/6/2018 09:33:41 pm
Coach Gil, could not agree more. Summit Football helped shape me into the person I am today and I am greatful for everything it has given me as an athlete and a person. Never in my football career did I fear the risks of head injuries thanks to the rules, regulations, and technique the state and the coaches enforced and emphasized. Everyone from the coaches to the trainers make sure that the team is healthy and safe. It is clear that the safety of the team is a top priority of the program, along with developing upstanding people who are prepared for the rest of their lives. I could not imagine my life without football and hope that future Hilltoppers are able to enjoy it as much as I did. Go Hilltoppers!
2/6/2018 09:59:15 pm
Gil... great source of information and thank you for all you continue to do for our program. Our staff cares about our players far beyond just the game of football. Proud to be a Hilltopper and excellent article.
2/7/2018 12:42:18 am
Gil - thank you for this article. I couldn't agree more. My son Owen plays football here in California and the same concern around concussions and the NFL is here as well. It is taking an impact on the sport here and it's tragic. Football was a huge part of my life. This is not the NFL, this is high school football. The hard work, discipline and team work are all a part of football that I believe no other sport provides at the same level. You were always a big part Summit Football and I have always respected your involvement, even to this day. I have coached many years and will coach as long as I can because of the impact that you made on my life. Coaching is a way to give back to the sport that we love and to make a long standing impact on those athletes fortunate enough to play on a team. Thank you for everything that you gave. I will continue to pay it forward. Football was the most important sport that I ever played because of the hard work, discipline and teamwork that it taught me. Thank you Gil for being a part of the Hilltopper program and for continuing well beyond your years of duty.
2/7/2018 09:31:23 am
Excellent reply to concerns regarding football participation. As a former NFL player, I can understand the concerns of parents who have sons participating. I think that the game is a lot safer today... rule changes along with advancements in equipment ( helmets in particular ) make it much safer than when I played. The benefits of participation far out weigh the risks of getting injured. Summit has a great program with coaches who really care for the well being of their players. Parents you can rest assure that every precaution is being utilized to minimize injury! Go Hilltoppers! Coach Wos
2/7/2018 09:53:44 am
Gil, Fantastic article! The coaches and players who have responded could not have said it better.. You and Summit Football have been a big part of my life and always will be. As I continue to coach young athletes I try to instill the life lessons that I have learned and developed from my youth as a proud Hilltopper.
2/7/2018 10:14:36 am
There is nothing better than high school football. Having watched High School football since 1967, I can tell you the positive impact is has on the community, students, and most importantly the players. Watching freshman boys grow into men while developing leadership skills is one of the best attributes of football. I played in the 70's at Summit and all three of my sons played at SHS. There has never been a moment that we second guessed that decision. The positive impact it has had on our family far exceeds any perceived risk of playing high school football.Summit Football or high school football is the best experience for young men as they develop into MEN.
2/7/2018 12:21:23 pm
Great article Coach Gil! I agree with everything that he had to say and I strongly believe that football gave me the lessons and tools necessary to succeed in life after it. While it is understandable that many parents fear football for the safety of their sons, I believe that the benefits of playing football far outweigh the risks involved. Head injuries did not have serious prevalence during my time playing and I can't imagine that it could now, especially with all the new precautions that football programs like Summit are taking. I would hate to see the game that I love so dearly diminished as a result of overblown media coverage. Looking forward to following the Hilltoppers this fall!
Paul Lennon SHS '60
2/7/2018 01:23:30 pm
Great article Gil. Like you, playing for Howie was the greatest pleasure I had in high school. Summit football has not had a bigger supporter than you. All the Best to you and Fran!
2/7/2018 02:44:54 pm
Summit Hilltopper Football. I'm not sure when it started exactly, but I know where it got me. Maybe it was the countless hours watching my fathers and uncle (Brad and Ron Paxson) game films from a propped up projector on the living room wall. Maybe being the ball boy for the varsity team while playing in the youth football program. Maybe being able to play alongside my brother (Mike Paxson) his senior year. Maybe being lucky enough to play in two state championship games with my teammates. Maybe it was playing in college. Maybe it was coming home after college and coaching in the youth program like many hilltoppers have done.
2/7/2018 03:00:31 pm
Good article Gil. Playing football in summit was great. I had only one concussion in my life which was in college. Playing in summit I played with passion and hard work and dedication and I learned a valuable lesson playing football I learned how to trust my teammates and to count on them in a time of need. I think we all know that this game give you great friends as you practice together and play together. I’m very proud to be a coach in summit. I try to teach the kids the right way to play just as the other coaches do in this town. I’m very proud to keep this tradition in the town I played in
2/7/2018 07:39:38 pm
I wanted to reiterate and support my wife’s comments about the Summit Football program. Our two sons (Michael ‘15 & Peter ‘18) benefited greatly from their participation with Summit Football. The discipline, conditioning, preparation and camaraderie instilled by the coaches at all levels was truly impressive. The High School program run by Coach Kevin Kostibos deserves special mention for their time commitment and dedication to developing and maturing young men. Football is different than many other sports. The planning, teamwork and commitment is more demanding.And, there are special risks also. Before jumping to conclusions about the publicized safety concerns at the high school levels (and younger), please take a minute to read the two studies highlighted in the link below citing the incidence of injury at these junior levels. As Parents, we all want to protect our children appropriately, the question is: do we have all of the information needed to properly evaluate that risk. If we could do it all over again, we would absolutely encourage our sons to play football again. Especially in Summit ! Go Hilltoppers !
2/7/2018 08:30:53 pm
Football is a sport like no other. The camaraderie between football teammates is unparalleled. Our son Brendan (Class of 2017) wouldn't trade his four years of Summit Hilltoppers Football for anything in the world. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to watch our high school boys turn into upstanding, respectful young men, who care and play for each other, their school and their town. Coach Kostibos and his amazingly dedicated staff do a fantastic job of teaching them how to be the best football players they can be, as well as the best people they can be. Is football a physically demanding sport? It definitely is, but Coach Kostibos and his very well trained staff teach their players to keep their heads up when tackling, and on offense as well, so as to stay prevent concussions and head injuries. Summit HS Football is a wonderful program, and the sport of football is a wonderful sport.
2/8/2018 05:18:54 pm
Clearly the Summit Hilltopper Football Program’s top priority is player safety evident by the numerous safety precautions it has taken and continues to take going forward. As a parent of two SHS players 2007-2013 I can attest to the importance of safety for all of the players by each coach, trainer and doctor. All sports carry some risks, but it is apparent that SHS Football Program is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the boys while also teaching about “Pride, Discipline and Tradition.”
2/9/2018 01:11:06 pm
I grew up playing Hilltopper football led by outstanding coaching and staff. Over those years I learned a lot, including dedication, discipline, teamwork and about fighting through adversity on and off the field. I’m grateful to everyone who works so hard to provide kids the opportunity to be part of such an outstanding organization that has such a positive impact on their lives.
2/9/2018 01:46:37 pm
Gil, Another great effort further displaying your lifetime commitment to Hilltopper football. Thank you! As for the many comments made, Football in Summit has been and will always be a rewarding and lifetime experience for all that it teaches about life. It makes us All better people. Every parent that is now considering their son's participation should be comfortable of the safety and precautions that Summit Football is taking. I just wish I could do it all over again!
2/9/2018 07:05:44 pm
I can honestly say that my life would not be the same without Summit Football. This community has shaped me into who I am today; a person who was taught perseverance, accountability, and trust. I can also honestly say safety was the least of my concerns. Life is too short to have such irrational worries when there is an opportunity right in front of you that will undeniably make you a better man. You cannot underestimate the value of Hilltopper Football. Those four years on a football field were the best years of my life. Go Hilltoppers!
Ben Huneke ('91)
2/13/2018 05:10:51 pm
Thank you Gil Owren for this reasoned perspective on the positive impact high school football can have on young people. I count myself truly blessed to be part of the proud tradition of Summit Hilltopper football. I was lucky enough to be a part of a State Championship team and to beat a #1 ranked Union team my senior year, but in reality, football was a formative part of my childhood in Summit starting in the 3rd grade.
2/17/2018 07:54:47 pm
Coach Gil- Thank you for presenting such comprehensive information about the rewarding sport of football, and how it relates to our players, here, in Summit. As a proud football mom of two boys, both past and present, I can, unequivocally, state that allowing my children to become Hilltopper football players is one of the best parental decisions I have ever made. Like most parents, in most forums, I had my concerns. I presented these concerns to our pediatrician, who was fully supportive of my boys playing. She stated that players are so well protected, today, and that safety techniques, such as heads up tackling are consistently maintained and improved upon, and that my boys would totally benefit by the structure and discipline the sport was reflective of. I have never forgotten her advice to me, nor have I ever second guessed my decision to allow my boys to play. Both of my boys are better focused during football season, both have always seemed more mature and responsible during the season, and I swear their self esteem is at an all time high when they are involved in the football family. Coach Kostibos and his staff truly makes each player feel important to the organization. Such inclusiveness brings great personal reflection and responsibility, which are attributes necessary to conquer the adult world. My older son thoroughly enjoyed his time on the Hilltopper football field and still references many lessons learned. He is also thrilled that his younger brother is part of the family and wearing his jersey number! Thank you for your continued dedication to the town of Summit, and for working so hard to create a program that benefits our boys on so many important levels.
George I Halmos
1/9/2020 08:09:00 pm
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