Plymouth County

Weight restrictions keeping some South Shore football players on the sideline

MARSHFIELD, Mass. — Jenni Brennan’s son Jacob loves football. And for the last several years, the Whitman teen’s pursued that passion in the Old Colony Youth Football League, established on the South Shore nearly 60 years ago. OCYFL started with just a handful of participating towns — but that number is now up to 35, with 28 teams now competing.

“This is the time of year he really comes alive,” she said. “He loves the challenge that football gives him.”

But Jacob’s challenge since last year has been how to keep playing without starving in the process.

“The entire time we’ve been in the program there have been weight restrictions,” Brennan said. “But they never really impacted our family.”

And then came last year — when Jacob hit 7th grade and went through a growth spurt. He added six inches to his height — and, along with that, some weight.

“This year, he grew another three inches,” Brennan said. “He is nearly six feet tall.”

And that’s when Jacob bumped into OCYFL’s weight restrictions — which are in place, said League President Gary Smith, to prevent bigger kids from mowing down smaller ones. Smith pointed out Old Colony is hardly the only league to employ weight restrictions as a safety measure. But some organizations have begun dropping them in favor of skill classifications.

In any case, Jacob was forced to sit out the first game of the new season because he was four pounds over the limit.

“He was devastated because he had worked so hard for six weeks,” Brennan said.

Ryan Leonard also worked hard during the pre-season.

“He was hoping to play,” said his mom, Christine. “He was hoping to make friends and to learn how to play football. And that seems not to be the case.”

The problem for the 4th grader: for the last two weeks, he flunked the pre-game weigh-in, too.

“The past two weeks in a row he’s been one pound over the weight limit,” Leonard said. “He is completely devastated, crushed — and so am I. It’s hard to stand there and be strong for him and watch him go through this.”

Neither Ryan nor Jacob could be termed “overweight.” What the two have in common is above-average height. But their mothers said height isn’t part of the equation in the Old Colony League — even though it’s a key factor in calculating Body Mass Index.

Smith said the issue of changing the weight limits comes up often — with such a proposal recently failing to garner the necessary 75% support of the participating town football associations. He said his own son, now in high school, was a victim of the weight-limit cut when he played in the league — so he knows how devastating it can be to a player.

But, Smith said he gets just as many calls for keeping the weight limit from parents of players who are small or light for their age.

Jacob was able to play his second game — but not for long. Brennan said her son was on the field for seven minutes because he had no energy — for lack of eating.

Ryan Leonard, meanwhile, is trying to qualify to play — really hard.

“He’s basically dieting,” his mother said. “He’s running up and down the driveway in a trash bag trying to dehydrate himself in order to qualify. And he’s nine.”

Brennan is circulating a petition to get the league to change its weight policy. She calls it a safety issue.

“There are children right now in the league who are starving themselves, who are dehydrating themselves, who are running in trash bags before games, who are not eating, who are not healthy,” she said. “It’s pretty clear that in any sport in which there is a weight restriction, there is a huge risk that those individuals are going to potentially develop disordered eating.”

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