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Coach Bumpus: ‘There’s definitely a trend going on’ as youth sports decline

An empty high school football field. (Stephanie Klein, MyNorthwest)

Blame it on video games. Blame it on concerns about health risks. Whatever the cause, the culture around youth sports may be changing. Along with it, there is a perception that participation is declining around Western Washington.

High school football coach Michael Bumpus argues “There’s definitely a trend going on.”

“In my first year as a head coach I was definitely more amped up … and I’m from California, culture is a little different in California,” Coach Bumpus told Danny, Dave, and Moore on 710 ESPN Seattle. “I grew up and coaches used to drop F-bombs on you all the time. We knew they loved us, we knew they’d do anything for us, so we didn’t think anything about it. Whereas the culture of football, at least up here, is a little more politically correct. Parents, I feel, want you to be politically correct.

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“My view is, I’m not going to curse at your kid, I’m not going to do anything that’s going to hurt them, but I’m definitely going to push them and challenge them,” he said. “Football and life is stressful as heck. It is. We are just trying to prepare you for some stress you are going to experience in life. Some people like it, some people don’t like it. But I’m pretty sure that 95 percent of my kids love me and know I would do anything for them.”

Bumpus played football as Washington State University and is a former Seattle Seahawk. He is now the head football coach at Monroe High School. That’s about an hour down the road from Anacortes High School, which recently announced that it is cancelling its varsity football program.

Anacortes’ varsity team was expected to take the field in the fall, but low interest in the sport prompted the school to shut it down, for now. Athletic Director Erik Titus told The Skagit Valley Herald that only 10 players signed up for the varsity team “and some of those are ‘maybe,'” he said. “You simply can’t throw sophomores into that fire, into that situation. It’s a safety risk at this level. You have to have the numbers. You have to have the kids who want to play.”

There are plenty of freshmen and sophomores interested in football, so a varsity Anacortes team may be possible in the future. In the meantime, the few interested juniors and seniors will have an opportunity to play for neighboring teams, such as Mount Vernon.

Youth sports in Western Washington

It’s not just Anacortes. Observations about a decline in youth sports participation are anecdotal, but noticeable.

“At Monroe, last year, we did not have a JV girls softball team for the first time in a while, we did not have a C team basketball team for the first time in a while,” Bumpus said. “Track went from 120 kids to about 70 kids. In our football program, in our first year we had 100 kids, now we are around about 75. It’s definitely apparent.”

“As far as football, I think it’s because it’s hard. We coach them hard,” he said. “You’re gonna have three-hour practices, your going to watch film, and you’re gonna lift. And I think this generation would rather do something else. They would rather just play a video game or something. There’s a lot of kids who will come out and give you everything they got, but I’ll have 85 kids show up in spring and I’ll have 75 by the fall and I’m chasing down kids to get helmets back, because they’re expensive.”

Beyond eSports, there’s also a lot of other opportunities and interests for students these days.

“Robotics Club or something like that,” Bumpus said. “There are so many other things for kids to do now, whereas when we were coming up, everybody played football. Even if you weren’t good or you weren’t big, everybody played.”

Safety and health

Jim Moore of Danny, Dave and Moore speculates that a handful of factors have come together to lessen interest in sports.

“Less kids are turning out for sports, there’s other interests, there’s other things,” Moore said. “We did this whole concussion seminar down in Kent. And we had experts and a panel and one of the things that came out of it is that everybody is worried about this risk of concussions.”

Moore argues that a worse threat to kids is inactivity, which can contribute to heart problems, early onset diabetes, or obesity. But on the other side of that is the health risks from playing football. Such risks have been highlighted in the press and via movies such as Concussion with Will Smith.

“I think parents are kind of fooled by football, they think that if you play football you are going to get concussed,” Bumpus said. “In my program last  year, we had three concussions, maybe, out of 75-80 kids … people need to realize that this isn’t old school football, lead with your head, ya know, ‘I want the toughest guy out there.’”

He says that at least every school in leagues he participates in teaches the Seahawks Hawk roll. That is a different way to tackle and doesn’t emphasize the head. Bumpus notes that when the movie Concussion was released, he got a string of phone calls from parents. He reminds people that to teach football, a person has to be a certified tackling coach. This is training that counters the likelihood of concussions.

The swing back

Moore predicts that there will be a swing back to football in a few years, after sensationalism over the risks has died down and medicine catches up.

“I think it’s a generational thing,” Bumpus said. “Because we have so much information on concussions from guys who played back in the day when you just stuck your nose in there and if you were concussed, it was just a little ringer, shake it off.”

“I think in five or six years, I think since most of these coaches are getting certified and we are teaching how to tackle properly or at least how to keep your head out,” he said. “Then they’ll look at the data again and say, ‘OK, football is safe now.'”

Bumpus points out that he is using new tech and data to address such issues. Some of his players have a device in their helmets that measure impacts. If it registers a significant hit, he will get a message on a pager he wears. Then he calls the player to the sidelines to check him out.