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Less than one year removed from a canceled fall season due to low turnout, Waynesville Youth Football is “back on its feet and making strides,” as Don Strautz, the organization’s vice president, put it.

Waynesville Youth Football recently concluded a spring 7-on-7 season in which each age group had enough players to field a team. That’s certainly cause for celebration, Strautz said, considering that last year only about 14 kids in total came out for spring ball.

The Mountaineers, as they’re called, welcomed Enka, Erwin and North Buncombe to C.E. Weatherby Stadium for 7-on-7 contests over a seven-week span beginning in mid-April. The spring season also featured numerous linemen challenges, which allowed players in non-skill positions to put in offseason work via an obstacle course and other entertaining drills.

“That was a lot of fun for the kids — and the parents, too, because they got to watch their kids do something a little different,” Strautz said. “The plan is to turn the linemen challenge into a day-long competition for any teams in the league that want to attend.”

Sign-ups for the fall season were ongoing throughout the spring, and a fair amount of kids have been registered for the upcoming campaign, Strautz said. There are two more opportunities to sign up before the season begins: July 16 (6-9 p.m.) and July 20 (8 a.m.) at C.E. Weatherby. The latter date serves as the organization’s first official workout, and it should be noted that football players and cheerleaders alike are eligible to register on both days.

Strautz praised Tuscola football head coach J.T. Postell and his staff, as well as Waynesville Middle School football head coach Chad Haynes, for their involvement during the spring season. Furthermore, Haynes is hosting open workouts every Tuesday and Thursday for kids throughout the county — from Canton, Clyde, Waynesville, wherever — who are interested in playing football. Those sessions will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. at the practice field across the street from Waynesville Middle School.

“He’s promoting football unity,” Strautz said.

Strautz, a former high school football coach on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, isn’t ignorant of the elephant in the room. He understands that the sport, on a national level, is at a crossroads because many parents are hesitant to let their kids play for fear of concussions and the potentially debilitating effects of CTE.

Instead of ignoring the issue, Waynesville Youth Football wants to lean into it, Strautz said.

“We’re striving to have our coaches educated on concussions,” he said. “We want them to be trained to recognize them, and to put the safety of the child first and foremost — certainly over continuing to play in a game.”

“We’ll take measures to make parents feel at ease,” he added. “Whether it requires the aid of EMS staff at games, or a player sitting out for the rest of the game to err on the side of caution...we understand that safety is essential.”

Strautz and the organization’s president, Lynn Cagle, are planning an upcoming informational meeting with parents and guardians whose kids are interested in joining Waynesville Youth Football.

The aim? To interact with those parents and guardians, face-to-face, and answer any questions they may have — while also offering an alternate viewpoint to the foreboding concussion narrative often found in the mainstream media, Strautz said.

“It would be a night where parents can talk to the coaches and hear about our philosophies — where we want the league to go, how their child fits in, that sort of thing,” Strautz said. “That way, if they do have concerns, we can address them, and the parents can make an informed decision about whether or not their child is a good fit for the league.”

The Western North Carolina Youth Football League — of which Waynesville is a part — is expected to release its fall season master schedule next week.

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