Final Countdown for the Brooklyn Hurricanes, a football institution for 60 years
Fewer new players are signing up at the youngest ages
Young football players tie up their laces and run from the bench to the field. The coach yells instructions as the players race back and forth, throwing and tackling. Alumni, now parents of new players, watch from the sidelines. It’s one of the final practices for the Brooklyn Hurricanes, a team that has been playing in Brooklyn for nearly 60 years.
Steve Orr, president of the Hurricanes, announced in October that this will be the final season of the league due to a drastic drop in registration. Five years ago, the league consisted of nine teams with about 210 total players. This year, there were three teams with about 70 total players.
“We’ve lost the younger kids,” said Orr. The league is for players aged four to 14, but there are fewer new players signing up at the youngest ages. The main reason is growing concern about head injuries.
“I’ve met people who have asked me about football, and their kid wants to play — but they’re worried,” said Orr, who started playing football when he was seven years old. He tells parents that he understands their concerns and won’t try to convince them differently, but that most organizations, including the Hurricanes, take precautions.
The Hurricanes are trained by Heads Up Football, a program developed by USA Football to train coaches on how young players can avoid injuries while tackling.
The Brooklyn Hurricanes reflect a larger trend. Across the U.S., tackle football rates have been steadily decreasing for the past decade. The number of players dropped to roughly 5.2 million last year from 7.9 million in 2007, according to data published by Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
And the Brooklyn Hurricanes aren’t the only youth tackle football team in Brooklyn taking a hit. They recently combined with the Downtown Giants, another Brooklyn-based league that saw a drop in registration, in order to continue operations.
Executive Director of the Downtown Giants Michael Barbieri said that because the Hurricanes won’t be around anymore, the Giants will only play in-house games — Giants vs. Giants. However, if numbers continue to drop, there’s a chance they won’t be able to maintain even those games.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Barbieri said.
John Byrnes, the father of a Hurricanes player, has followed the Brooklyn Hurricanes for about 30 years. His older son was a Hurricane and now plays in high school. But because of the growing fear surrounding concussions, Byrnes was reluctant to let his younger son play.
“But it was the Hurricanes,” Byrnes said, so he let his son sign up. “Some organizations just give you a helmet and say, ‘Go play,’ but the Hurricanes have clubhouse films and training on keeping it safe.”
Brian Duggan, a board member of the Hurricanes, said many alumni have reached out to the Hurricanes asking if there is anything they can do to keep it going.
“It’s like a friend that has moved away, but then you find out they’ve passed away,” Duggan said of the effect of the league’s end on its alumni. “It’s a loss.”
In a letter to parents and alumni, Orr thanked them for letting the organization be a part of players’ development.
“We try to teach kids life lessons through football,” Orr said. “It’s not just about winning. It’s about being on time. It’s about being consistent. It’s about being a good teammate.”
Orr said the older Hurricanes will be able to play in high school, but younger Hurricanes will need to find another field to play on if they want to continue.