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Article updated: 3/21/2013 7:59 AM

Lawmakers reject football tackling limits

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- State lawmakers Wednesday balked at a suburban official's plan to limit tackling at youth and high school football practices.

State Rep. Carol Sente's plan to limit full-contact practice to twice per week tried to address a new focus on the long-term brain damage the repeated hits in football can cause.

But an Illinois House panel disagreed it was something the state should try to regulate, and rejected it by a 5-6 vote.

"I still have concerns about legislating these kinds of rules for athletes," said state Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Glen Ellyn Republican.

Sente said after the hearing that limiting tackling is an idea that, in some form, will be approved eventually as brain research continues to show the potential damage repeated collisions can do to children.

"This conversation will continue," she said. "It will happen."

Sente could alter the legislation and try again this week, but time is running short as legislative deadlines loom.

Lawmakers in the hearing said they've been called by local football coaches who have urged them not to back Sente's plan.

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, said coaches have asked why a state that can't handle its finances should try to regulate sports.

"Don't let them tell us how to play football," Wheeler said coaches told her.

The Illinois High School Association has opposed Sente.

"We are on the same page with Rep. Sente on the dangers of concussions, but continue to have a differing viewpoint on how we should address the issue in Illinois moving forward," IHSA Director Marty Hickman said in a statement after the hearing.

Former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer wrote lawmakers a letter this week asking them to limit tackling. Hillenmeyer's career ended after a third concussion.

"Without it, a rogue, wannabe-Mike Ditka youth coach will continue to have unchecked ability to overexpose our next generation to harm, harm that is avoidable and has long-term implications," Hillenmeyer wrote.

And Geoff Meyer, resident of Lake Zurich-based The Chicagoland Youth Football League, told lawmakers today that his organization has already limited tackling in practice, as has the NFL.

"Our players are just children, and their parents trust that we are going to do everything we can to try and keep them safe," Meyer said.

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