By Courtney, HerGameLife San Francisco 49ers Contributor
A wrap up on 49ers LB Patrick Willis' ProCamp last weekend wouldn't be complete without taking a moment to talk to the parents of some of the kids who participated in the camp. Two of the major controversies surrounding football players from high school through the pros are academic preparation and safet. HerGameLife roamed the bleachers of the ProCamp to discuss these issues with some of the parents.
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I first spoke with some of the mothers about their role in assuring that their kids focus on academics just as much as they do on football. One mother, Prabha Boyles (Hayward, CA), says she is fully behind her seven year-old son's participation in his first year of football "but when summer ends, the focus is on school when it resumes." Monica Balistreri (San Jose, CA), a mother of three boys all playing football, an enthusiast of the sport, and board member of the Almaden Mustangs, says the Pop Warner teams have built-in GPA requirements for all participating players in addition to a scholastic banquet where players are recognized for high academic achievement. All of the mothers reiterated that they would not hesitate to take away football should their child's academic performance suffer. These ladies are doing their job, now I just wish some of the unscrupulous teachers would follow through on looking out for these young players' academic well-being by not simply passing them for the sake of the football team.
Another topic of interest was that surrounding player safety. Later in my discussion with Monica, she disclosed that her oldest son, a 15 year-old linebacker for Bellermine High School, suffered his first concussion this past season. She definitely has worries about the sport, but says her Pop Warner team is taking all the necessary steps to increase player safety including new helmets and padding, safety talks with and from coaches, and increased vigilance in screening for concussions. After seeing a record number of players pulled from football by their parents this year, partly due to the Junior Seau tragedy, she hopes the actions being taken by the Almaden Mustangs will provide some peace of mind.
For another mother, Prabha Boyles, player safety is a key consideration for more personal reasons. Having lost her husband, a member of the US military, in Iraq, Prabha is making good on fulfilling her husband's dream of their son playing football, but the fear of seeing her son severely injured worries her constantly. She is fine with his participation in the younger ranks, but questions whether or not she'll want him to continue to play as he gets older.
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