Fairfax County schools take the lead nationwide in teaching safe football tackling


From the 2011 Virginia 6A state championship game: Oscar Smith’s Rahkeem Stallings climbs off of Centreville’s quarterback Mitch Ferrick after blind siding him after the whistle blew the play dead. Centreville’s coach, Chris Haddock, is leading the way as Fairfax County becomes the first county in the nation to adopt the Heads Up tackling safety program. (John McDonnell – The Washington Post)

Fairfax County schools and sports officials have been very attentive to the growing concern about head trauma in football, including seminars for parents and the Centreville youth football league being one of the first three in the nation to try out the new “Heads Up” tackling program. Heads Up teaches safer tackling techniques, keeping the head away from contact, in hopes of reducing head injuries. It is promoted by USA Football, the non-profit national governing board of youth football, and a partner with the NFL. 

Now the Fairfax County Public Schools are the first district in the country to adopt and require Heads Up for all of its high school football programs this season. USA Today quoted Scott Hallenbeck, USA Football’s executive director, saying, “This show of leadership in Fairfax County — from the youth level through its high schools — is being noticed throughout the high school football community. Other districts across the country will follow its example.”

Chris Haddock, the head coach at Centreville High, and Dick Adams, the former head coach at Annandale High and a two-time state champion, gave a training clinic for 25 “player safety coaches,” each to be assigned to a Fairfax school. Adams is also going to travel the country training other coaches, Gary Mihoces reported in a detailed, excellent piece that makes Fairfax County look very good.

It seems reasonable and smart for Fairfax County to get going on this issue of reducing head trauma, as we watch the sport of football try to deal with the realities of repeated high-speed hits to the head. We’ll see how quickly other districts adopt it.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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