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Bill to limit tackling in Illinois fails in committee

A bill to limit youth and high school football teams from tackling missed its mark down in Springfield on Wednesday. Proposed House Bill 1205 was in Elementary & Secondary Education Committee, but motion to pass it failed

"It was killed in committee," 75th District Representative Pam Roth confirmed between sessions down in Springfield on Wednesday.

The bill, known also as the Football Practice Hitting Limitation Act, was  introduced by State Representative Carol Sente. The bill, if made into law, would have restricted teams with kids under the age of 18 from padded practice in season and would have abolished offseason tackling altogether.

"She (Sente) came up with the amendment and that is what we voted on today," Roth said.

Roth, who sits on the Elementary & Secondary Education Committee, put together a town-hall style meeting on Monday at Morris Community High School to get the opinions of her constitutions leading up to Wednesday's vote. After that meeting, Roth came out in opposition to the bill.

"From what I understand, many of the schools have already gone to two days of tackling a week during the season, and though they can have 20 days of tackling in the offseason, most don't use all of them. This bill would have cut that number down to zero," Roth said. "Essentially, what that means is kids who are just starting out, like my son (Jakob, 11) would have maybe had four practices  before he would have started live hitting. I know when he first started, he didn't get it right away. It took him a while to learn how to tackle."

Roth says that the oversight currently in place and implemented by the IHSA already takes the health of football players, and all other sports for that matter, seriously.

"There are inherent risks to playing football," Roth said. "But I believe the coaches are prepared to handle injuries … I've always felt that the coaches should have the latitude to coach."

In a release, IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said that he feels his association has been very proactive in regards to head injuries, amongst other things.

"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."

While it is possible that Sente could call for another vote on the amendment by the end of the week, both Roth and Hickman don't see the usefulness of that action.

"The General Assembly should not be stepping over the IHSA by intervening in school sports, no matter how good the intentions of the sponsor might be," Roth had said in a statement before Wednesday's vote.

Obviously a statement that Hickman agrees with.

"If measures, such as limiting contact are forthcoming, we would prefer to see them run their course through the procedures we have in place," Hickman said. "Our Association is well-positioned to develop responsible measures to ensure participant safety, just as we have done in the past."

According to the Northwest Herald, Sente does plan on bringing House Bill 1205 up for another vote again on Thursday.

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) told the NWH Wednesday afternoon that Sente plans to bring the bill back to committee on Thursday. Wheeler said the message she has received from football coaches she has spoken to about the proposed legislation is clear.

"The state of Illinois does not need to be legislating how best to serve the children and coach football, bottom line," Wheeler said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. "Get the state government out of coaching football.

"The direction of where this should be coming from really should be more grassroots rather than government down."

Jeff Arnold of the Northwest Herald contributed to this report

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