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High school ritual may be fading away

State’s prep coaches divided on whether to continue two-a-day preseason football practices

 

There is probably no single thing in the Magnolia State as universally beloved as football.

Players and coaches at every level of the sport will begin season preparations soon.

Preseason practice at Mississippi High Schools started Monday.

This will be the first football season since the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) issued a set of non-binding guidelines designed to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and death for high school athletes — more specifically, football players.

The report, “Preseason Heat-Acclimatization Guidelines for Secondary School Athletics,” was revealed at NATA’s national convention in June. It offers recommendations from when and for how long players should practice to the appropriate time to don a full set of football gear.

The recommendation getting the most attention is the one that calls for the abolishment of two-a-day practices during the first week of August. The report argues that high school athletes’ bodies are not accustomed to spending long periods of time outside performing strenuous physical activity, and that practice schedules should proceed in phases over several days to allow acclimation to the heat.

“When an athlete undergoes a proper heat-acclimatization program, the body’s response to exercise and heat is improved, while athletes not following a proper program face measurable risks for heat illness,” said Douglas Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut and the report’s co-author. “A proper plan in secondary school athletic programs is essential to minimize these risks.”

The issue of high school two-a-days in August came into sharp focus last summer when a 15-year-old offensive lineman in Kentucky died from heat stroke. The kid’s coach was eventually charged with reckless homicide. He entered a not guilty plea after his indictment in January.

“Exertional heat stroke is the leading cause of preventable non-traumatic exertional sudden death for young athletes in the U.S., and studies strongly suggest that heat acclimatization appears to be one of the best strategies for reducing the risk of heat illness,” said Dr. Francis, president-elect of the American Society of Sports Medicine, at the NATA convention in June.

The NATA guidelines — called “minimum standards” by co-author David Csillan, a high school athletic trainer in New Jersey — are not enforceable. The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA), the governing body for all high school sports and extracurricular activities, will not impose penalties on coaches who put their football teams through two-a-day workouts.

One of those Mississippi coaches whose team started two-a-days Monday is Tony Woolfolk.

“We’re going to have two-a-days probably about three days before school starts,” said Woolfolk, head coach at Yazoo City High School. “We will have them.”

Woolfolk, who has been in coaching more than two decades and has never lost a player to a heat-related death, said the practices would begin at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and last about an hour-and-a-half each.

“They will not be in full pads,” Woolfolk said. “We try to go as early and as late as we can go. When I first started coaching, we didn’t give guys water and all this type of stuff like we do now. Now, I guess the guys are Nintendo babies and you have to watch them. We have water, water, water, water and more water. If a kid just looks crazy, we push water on him. All of my coaches have had first-aid. That’s one of the requirements of the (MHSAA). We watch them very, very closely.”

Columbus High School coach Bubba Davis told the Commercial Dispatch newspaper in Columbus shortly after the NATA released the guidelines that he does not put his players through two-a-day practices.

 “Even practicing one time a day, you still have to be real careful,” Davis said.

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About Clay Chandler

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