Former NFL player's youth flag football league canceled this year
Jim Schwantz hatched an idea in 2012 for a flag football league with a different twist in an effort to appeal to parents concerned about their young children being at risk for concussions in tackle games.
But even without the physical contact, Northwest Flag Football League play was scrapped this year -- the result, Schwantz believes, of more parents avoiding involvement in football for their sons.
Schwantz, a linebacker for the Super Bowl XXX-champion Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Bears in the 1990s, based the league in Palatine, where he's mayor.
His initiative was geared for boys in kindergarten through eighth grade and got off to a robust start with about 90 players in 2012. The league distinguished itself from similar programs through equal playing time, allowing boys to try every position regardless of size, eliminating weekend commitments and using paid professionals instead of volunteers.
However, mirroring a trend in Illinois high school football, the number of flag players dipped to roughly 60 in 2016. For this year, he said, Palatine-based Harper College requested registrations by an early August deadline in its role as a partner with the Northwest Flag Football League.
"We just weren't getting there," Schwantz said. "There just didn't seem to be the traction. So, we made a tough decision to cancel the league this year. It's not anything that we think is done forever."
Schwantz added his organization collaborated with Harper's InZone program for a summer football skills camp that had solid participation this year.
Schwantz, an analyst on pre- and postgame Bears broadcasts for WBBM radio, said he received positive feedback about the no-contact flag league and believes it was operated properly.
But "football is under assault," and even the flag version wasn't immune from a growing negative portrayal of the sport, he said.
"Inherently, it's a dangerous game -- there's no doubt about it," Schwantz said. "And I don't know that people were able to separate flag from the tackle. I think there's a natural progression in the minds of parents that if you play flag, eventually you will end up playing tackle. I think there were decisions being made that we just don't want our kids involved in the sport of football."