ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA) — As some people turn to non-contact sports because of recent concussion scares, others continue to play the sport they love long after most of their teammates hang up their cleats.
The NWA Battle are a semi-professional football team in Northwest Arkansas, and players range from college age to late 30s. Players hit the gridiron for free and are paid in camaraderie and the opportunity to continue playing the game.
“Played all through middle school, high school, played a little college, then took some years off and found out about this great opportunity to get back out there, put some pads on,” said Joshua Parker, a former player who joined the coaching ranks last year. “Once you’re a football player, you never really want to give it up.”
Despite talk of players developing long-term health problems due to brain injuries, players for the Battle believe many of the problems are due to poor techniques, as referenced in our special report.
“It worries me when people are not trained in proper tackling techniques,” Parker said. “There’s always gonna be freak accidents no matter what you do. I think if you are taught how to properly tackle with good technique and form, you can really prevent a lot of those catastrophic injuries.”
James Burkheart is the founder of the NWA Battle and first started the team in 2004 when there were no semi-pro football teams in the area. He played the game until he was 40.
“I love the game,” Burkheart said. “It’s been a part of my life since I was a child, and I love providing the opportunity for other players to continue that and have a place for them to play the game they love.”
Many of the younger players hope to earn looks from colleges or opportunities to play arena football. For most, however, it’s simply the thrill of playing football that keeps them in pads.
“We have a lot of players that don’t make it to college or go to college and don’t make it pro, and that’s what this is here for,” Burkheart said. “It’s for them.”