The Saints are donating $100,000 to fund USA Football’s Heads Up safety awareness program for high school coaches in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the team announced Thursday along with officials from the organizations.
It’s the first affiliation between an NFL team and high school athletic associations from three states and is an addition to the Saints’ already extensive youth-level outreach.
“This program stands on its own legs and merits,” Steven Pate, the Saints senior director of community and governmental affairs said. “It’s a step forward in our efforts to be leaders in the NFL in regard to player safety in our community and region.
“This is a big win in that regard.”
Heads Up is used by about 70 percent of the youth football programs in the country, USA Football chairman Scott Hallenbeck said, including 29 leagues in Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
It also is used on the high school level in 20 states, and the addition of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi bring the number of state associations officially endorsing the program to 13.
The aim of the program, which is presented both in clinics and via on-line programs, is to increase awareness in concussion recognition, cardiac preparedness and heat issues along with equipment fitting and the proper safety technique for blocking and tackling.
Hallenback said that in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the nation’s largest school districts, concussions are down 16 percent and injuries overall by 22 percent since the Heads Up program has been introduced.
“It short, it’s working,” he said. “But with all things, it takes leadership to drive behavior change.
“First and foremost to have the Saints engage the state associations makes this a positive for all concerned.”
Hallenback added that while the $10 per coach registration is nominal, it still presents a savings for the state organizations.
Jason Trosclair, the Saints director of youth programs, said the team has used Heads Up at its youth clinics held throughout the region for the past six years.
But while Heads Up has made inroads on the youth level, acceptance by the high schools has been slower.
“The important thing here has been opening lines of communication with the LHSAA,” Trosclair added. “It needs to be noted that these endorsements are very important and they don’t happen overnight.”
Hallenbeck said one vital element of having the high schools on board is the coaches and players will be using the same terminology on safety issues at all levels.
“If you get 10, 20 or 30 coaches in a room, the interesting thing we’ve found on working on this they are generally 90 percent close when talking about technique.
“Where this starts to go awry is in the terminology, which can be all over the place. What we’re trying to do is both to teach basic, important elements of health and safety and to make sure they’re using consistent terminology, which to a young person is incredibly valuable and important.”
Trosclair said that dates for the Heads Up clinics sponsored by the Saints would be announced soon, but they are generally held in the summer.