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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Parents of children who want to play tackle football face a tough choice these days.

Football remains intensely popular, but studies link the sport to an increased risk of brain injury, especially for the youngest players.

Football is a way of life in Pennsylvania.

Several days a week, before the sun sets, the kids at Windber Youth Football League suit up to learn a contact sport, with no hitting.

Windber joins a number of schools turning to flag football for its youngest players.

“When we were playing tackle, we were sending them over to the ambulance for a concussion protocol,” one Windber coach explained. “It just got to the point where we were like ‘this is crazy.’”

In a paper published this fall, the Aspen Institute recommended flag football as the standard for kids before age 14.

Doctor Robert Cantu is a concussion specialist at Boston University.

He says children are more vulnerable to hits because their heads are disproportionately bigger than their bodies — and their necks are weaker.

“People who start playing tackle football under the age of 12 have a greater chance of later life behavior, cognitive and mood issues comparted to a group that started later in life,” said Dr. Cantu.

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Farve agrees. He supports a bill in Illinois to do away with tackle football for young players.

Parents tell us flag football is a great alternative.

“He’s learning the game of football, the fundamental skills and being safe at the same time,” said parent Amy Stone.

And for the kids of Windber, it’s still about the love of the game.

The end result is a win-win situation for those young athletes, as they get to continue playing the game they love while staying safe.

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