High schools sack football seasons over injuries, indifference

New Jersey quarterback Evan Murray is the third high school football player in the U.S. to die this season. Alarm over football-related injuries is growing in school districts across the country, and many are debating whether to keep their football teams.

The Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in Missouri is one of a growing number of high schools to scrap their football teams, saying the sport just isn't safe.

The Maplewood Blue Devils made it all the way to the Missouri state championships in 2010. School board president Nelson Mitten said the school had a proud football tradition.

"I've spent many a time, hours with alumni, dating back to the 1960s, talking about the tremendous football teams they've had going back 'til then," Mitten said.

But after last season, the high school football program has been canceled.

"One of our students suffered a head injury that put him out the rest of the season, and then we had at least one broken ankle," Mitten said.

He said the team had so many players hurt last fall, they had to forfeit a game. Only 14 active players were on the roster at season's end, down from 40 just seven years ago.

"The board did an assessment of interest in the program, found that there were probably insufficient students to maintain a team, and decided to cancel the team for this year," Mitten said.

Maplewood isn't alone. Schools in Maine and New Jersey have canceled or cut short their seasons this year due to injuries or low student interest. The total number of high school students playing football across America has dropped by more than 25,000 over the past five years.

"Youth participation is declining, high school participation is declining. This trend is going to continue," Time magazine senior writer Sean Gregory said.

Gregory reports on football for Time and writes about the dangers of concussions on the gridiron.

"I'm not ready to call 'Friday Night Lights' off in the next 10 years, but I wouldn't be surprised if coaches are having kind of a more difficult time attracting quality players," Gregory said.

At Maplewood, an increasing number of students are trying out for the cross country and soccer teams.

Isaac Pearson is a sophomore on the soccer team. His older brother, J.P., played football at Maplewood.

"My mom's like... soccer's your thing. She doesn't want me to get hurt, too. But soccer's just something I really liked," Pearson said.

A decade ago, this school had just a dozen young men on the soccer roster. That number has more than doubled.

Another clear sign of Maplewood's shift away from football: Next month's homecoming game will be a soccer game.