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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

SYSA says YMCA caused youth tackle football league to shutter

The Spokane Youth Sports Association and YMCA had partnered on youth tackle football from 2004 to 2016. (File / SR)

The Spokane Youth Sports Association won’t be doling out helmets and pads this fall.

The organization recently chose to move all of its age groups to flag football, a change executive director Phil Helean wasn’t thrilled to make.

Helean, who disputed an earlier local TV report noting SYSA made the change in part because of growing concussion concerns, said the primary reason for axing tackle football was due to a failed partnership with the YMCA.

“If the YMCA hadn’t done what they had done, we’d still have tackle football,” said Helean, a former longtime YMCA senior program director. “We were taking registration last July when they said they were doing their own program.

“It left us holding thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment. It was really wrong how they went about it.”

From 2004 to 2016, Helean said, SYSA and the YMCA partnered to form a youth tackle football league. SYSA ran seventh and eighth grades – the only grades it offered tackle since its inception – with YMCA responsible for grades 3-6.

When the YMCA opted to start its own seventh-grade league last summer, Helean said, it substantially thinned out SYSA’s player pool.

“We didn’t even have a seventh-grade team last year. Just eighth,” said Helean, who noted that YMCA is adding eighth-grade teams this fall.

Attempts to reach the YMCA for comment were unsuccessful.

Parents’ concussion concerns over “the last few years” led to a decline in SYSA football numbers, Helean said, but the participation drop wasn’t enough to stymie the league.

“Just a few years ago we had about 400 players in tackle,” he said.

SYSA, which was founded in 1966, offered tackle football as its first sport.

The YMCA is one of a handful of area youth tackle football leagues, including Spokane Pop Warner, the Valley and Mead schools’ junior high teams, and others.