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With concerns over safety rising in youth football, Chippewa Falls Youth Football continues to make changes to reduce injury risk and promote skill-based football.

Chippewa Falls Youth Football has expanded their flag football program this year in hopes to increase numbers and give kids another opportunity to play football, while choosing to stay away from tackle until an older age.

Previously the flag football program consisted of grades 3-6, but it has been expanded to include both grades two and seven.

Chippewa Falls Youth Football president Arnie Pehlke said any concerns about players in flag football falling behind their counterparts who start tackle football in fifth grade shouldn’t exist. He said the way they instruct in the flag program shares many similarities to the way they teach those involved in tackle football. He said their program is very skill based, and they focus on skill development, demonstrations and walk-throughs.

“If you take those three stages and spend more time at them those kids should come out of it better,” Pehlke said. “They are going to have the same knowledge. So no I think it is going to hurt them.”

The amount of contact practice time is decreasing in the tackle program, and instead coaches are focused on teaching proper technique and knowledge of the game.

“Our major emphasis is on the safety issues,” Pehlke said. “Giving the kids more time to learn that skill level, teaching the fundamentals, spending more time doing that at a slower pace.”

The youth program has invested in equipment to meet those safety needs as well. They now only offer 5-star helmets rated by a system developed by the biomedical engineering and mechanical program at Virginia Tech. Pehkle said all their helmets come directly from manufacturer Riddell. He said they have also purchased equipment like tackling wheels and the TackleBar system which reduces practice contact.

Another major influence of youth football has been the push to certify coaches to provide proper instruction. Pehlke said they had an USA Football instructor attend the Chippewa Falls Youth Football coaching clinic earlier this year to begin the certification of coaches with the Heads Up program. Heads Up is a program designed by USA Football to teach better tackling techniques to increase player safety.

“The biggest impact for us is certifying the coaches,” Pelke said. “That’s really a big difference. What we are seeing nationwide is that it is being pushed.”

Chippewa Fall Youth Football players and coaches have also received instruction in addition to USA Football from American Youth Football, from area varsity coaches, as well as coaches from UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout.

“We’ve been ahead of those (changes),” Pehlke said. “We were already certifying our coaches with testing and (coaching) clinics. We already had programs outside ours (teach the youth and coaches).”

The youth program continues to make changes to rules by which they play. There is no tackling on kickoff or punts. They also don’t rush punts, but Pehlke said it is important that kids get a taste of what special teams are like without having to risk dangers of what those plays in football can pose. Although these rules have existed for a few years the league continues to make changes to them to protect players.

Scheduled registration for tackle football has been completed. Flag football registration is scheduled for July 16-19 from 3-8 p.m. each day at Weber Field. The cost is $55 per player for flag football and $175 for tackle with both including the cost of equipment. Contact Pehlke at 715-577-8058 for any questions.

The annual league meeting for coaches is set for Aug. 1, and the kickoff scrimmage begins Aug. 18 with games starting in early September.

Travis Nyhus can be reached by email at or Twitter @travisnyhus.

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Chippewa Herald sports reporter

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