You can blame the risk of serious injury, the weather or even the rise of other sports in the city, but officials involved in high school football in Calgary say there has been a significant decline in the number of kids getting involved in the sport.

Football has been played in Calgary for over 100 years and those involved in the organization say that it’s a great starting place for anyone who wants to get outside and have fun.

“You can have any body type and there’s a position for you to play. It’s a true team sport, I think. I never had the opportunity to play football, but I wish I would’ve. My own kids play football and I think it allows students to be involved in so many different ways and it creates opportunities for athletes to shine in all different positions,” says Mike Bester, president of the Calgary High School Athletic Association.

Bester is also the principal of John G. Diefenbaker High School in Calgary, home of the Chiefs football team.

He says that while his school’s team is doing well in terms of numbers, other schools haven’t been so lucky.

Five junior teams that were part of the high school circuit at the end of last year have folded or combined their program with the senior level.

Bester says there are a number of reasons why this happened but a big one was a growing safety concern held by many parents.

“We do hear concussion concerns from parents and we like to have an opportunity to tell them about our safety protocols and how we are working with Football Alberta and Football Canada around safe contact. Our coaches are really well trained and our coaches have to go through concussion protocol.”

Assistant coach Clayton Masikewich says it’s a comprehensive program under the oversight of Football Alberta.

“[It’s] making sure all the kids know how to block and tackle safely, keeping their heads out and making sure there are no head and neck injuries.”

Masikewich has played football all the way up to the post-secondary level, with several years on the Dinos and Calgary Colts squads and he says there is a much stronger focus on safety now than there ever was before.

“I remember when I was playing Bantam and Midget football, you would get bumps on the head and come off the field feeling a little bit dazed and then go back in. Once I got to post-secondary level, there were concussion protocols where you’re getting baseline testing and everything else. It’s definitely come a long way since I started.”

16-year-old Daniel O’Blenes, who has played football ever since he was a kid, says that he enjoys the sport because it’s fun and it’s something that he excels at.

“It was something to do, something to get out of the house. I wasn’t into a whole lot of sports. Football was just a place where I could run around, hit some people and have a good time.”

He says that getting hurt is never a concern when he is on the field and he’s also had his fair share of injuries, but it’s part of the game.

“I’ve had a concussion, I’ve had knee injuries and various ankle injuries, all just football things,” O’Blenes said. “It’s one of the things I really excel at and I’m not going to stop just because of a little thing that I can work past.”

Bester says that there are a lot of great things about high school football that some parents may need to be educated about.

“There is some more work that needs to be done helping parents understand some of the safe contact protocols, some of the extra hours the coaches put in to make sure kids are learning how to tackle properly [and] how to treat each other with respect. There’s a lot of respect and positive culture.”

Masikewich says that it’s tough to see teams disappear and he wants to make sure that football doesn’t disappear off Calgary’s landscape entirely.

“You don’t want to see high school teams falling off the map because this is a good chance for a lot of these students to get football experience. Being in school, playing football with my friends, I thought it was one of the highlights of my high school career.”

The Calgary High School Athletic Association is a non-profit organization funded by the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District that’s been in the city for over 100 years.

(With files from Chris Epp)