Safety concerns tank Jupiter High’s tackle powder-puff

The 50-year tackle tradition for powder puff at Jupiter High has come to an end. The junior and senior girls have been given a choice to face off in a game of flag football or kickball instead.

Safety was the deciding factor, Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said Thursday.

Despite arguments to the contrary from a vocal faction of students and parents, the equipment and training time the girls anticipated were not adequate, the district’s risk management and legal experts concluded, Christiansen said.

The principal met with students after school Thursday and gave them those two options. A third would be to hold an event off campus, but it could not be associated in any way with the school, students reported. Students and parents planned to meet at a local church Thursday night to discuss their next steps.

The news disappointed Jupiter High senior Savannah Tardonia, who already plays on the school’s girls varsity flag football team.

“It’s going to be sad that this 50-year-old tradition will no longer carry on,” said Tardonia, who was among about a dozen students to attend Wednesday night’s school board meeting to plead their case.

The students weren’t the only ones fighting to keep the clock running on the tackle game. Parents and alum were among the more than 2,800 to sign an online petition in support.

“The community is in an uproar. The board office got lots and lots of emails,” school board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri said at meeting’s end. Even he had some sympathy for their plight.

“I don’t understand the rationale that girls can apply for the boys football team, but they can’t have their own game after 50 years of doing this,” Barbieri said. “If the parents want it, the community wants it, the girls want it, it’s safe, I don’t understand why they’re changing a procedure that’s been in place 50 years.”

Principal Dan Frank, who came to the school three years ago, says he pulled the plug on tackle after reviewing the game’s history – including the injuries. “I’ve been reviewing all our activities and this is one where the risks outweigh any possible benefits,” Frank said.

The school’s former head coach and athletic director, Charlie Persson, said this week that he did recall some “bad injuries” – they weren’t common and they also didn’t stop him from sending his own daughter onto the field in her junior and senior years.

And while the girls and their parents contend they have answered the need for safe equipment by tapping the community’s youth league program, district staff disagreed.

The equipment in question isn’t the right fit, Christiansen said. There is equipment made for girls, but what they would be using isn’t.

“And gear that doesn’t fit properly won’t protect,” he said, adding that staff sought insight from other large urban Florida districts and found “no one has tackle for girls.”

Training time was another consideration. “From playing football myself, I will tell you, you go through a full process before you go on the field. To learn how to use the equipment, to know how to use it safely is pretty serious,” Christiansen said.

“It’s not a gender issue,” Christiansen said. “It’s more about safety. If they got girls’ helmets and that, and risk management was OK with it and we had liability insurance for it, yes (they could play). But I don’t believe that’s doable by next Friday. It’s really about keeping our students safe and being reasonable and rational about that.”

The gender-bending powder-puff game that also sees the boys become cheerleaders was scheduled for May 6. The freshmen and sophomore girls are still on for the traditional best-of-five tug of war.

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