High school football players given mandate to face the heat
Monday morning is the official start for high school football camps around Pennsylvania, but this year teams already have had an official task to finish.
For the first time this year, the PIAA mandated that high school football players complete a three-day heat acclimatization period before the start of full practice. For teams in Armstrong County, last Wednesday through Friday was the popular time to complete the new requirements.
Players must complete three days of at least three hours each under the policy, during which they progress from wearing helmets and shoulder pads to donning full equipment. Players are prohibited from contact drills until completing the three days, and while local coaches recognize the importance of the new mandate, the requirements also created some minor inconveniences for teams.
“We usually go Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and we give the kids Friday off before camp begins,” Ford City coach John Bartolovic said. “This year, we went Wednesday, Thursday, Friday the last week because we had to.”
“It really hasn't changed much for us. The only hitch was on Thursday, we had to go three hours when we usually only go two,” Kittanning coach Frank Fabian said. “It's been business as usual for us. Essentially, what it means is mandatory practices start three days earlier.”
One concern coaches expressed when the policy was put into place was the prospect of losing players for the start of camp if they had yet to complete the three-day period. But even at Leechburg, the smallest school district in or partly in Armstrong County, players adjusted to the new regulations.
“Our kids were real good about it. We explained to them and to their parents that if they missed it, they wouldn't be able to start camp and there would be no guarantee they play in the first scrimmage,” Leechburg coach Mark George said. “We have 34 kids practicing and only three missed it, so we're going to start camp with 31.”
“I told our kids if they miss these days, they would only have one day of full contact (this week) on Thursday, and I wouldn't feel comfortable putting them in a scrimmage,” Fabian said. “We had a couple with vacations already planned, but we've had good attendance.”
Implementation of the new rule hasn't gone off without a hitch. For one, temperatures last Wednesday and Thursday topped out in the late 70s, which makes some question whether the requirement served its purpose.
And though liability concerns factor into the reason for having the heat acclimatization period, some coaches feel they've always taken steps to prevent heat-related illness among their players.
“We've always done our summer workouts where we start off lighter and then add more and more,” Bartolovic said. “That's always been successful for us, and we've never had any problems.
“This year, it was the heat. Last year, they added concussion tests that all the coaches had to take. I know they do all these things for safety, and that's important, but a little common sense goes a long way with a lot of it.”