Frigid is 'football weather' in Pennsylvania
Forget the hot chocolate. Eddie Ball would rather have ice cream before playing football in frigid weather.
As the Clairton senior rationalizes, if you're already cold before you go outside, the chill doesn't feel so chilly.
"Eating ice would be good, too," Ball said.
That's a funny thought for Clairton teammate Deontae Howard, who dresses for football practice like a kid ready to play in the snow, bundled beneath long sleeves, gloves and a thermal head wrap.
"That definitely sounds like him," said Howard, who endured wind-chill temperatures approaching single-digits during last week's state semifinal at Slippery Rock University. "I wouldn't do anything like that."
High school football season ends later in Pennsylvania than any neighboring state, leaving the PIAA championship games only days away from winter. West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland are among those who finished Dec. 5. The WPIAL has suggested starting the season a week earlier, but the PIAA has been reluctant to make schedule changes.
Next year, the title games are scheduled for Dec. 17-18.
"The kids here are accustomed to playing in cold weather," said Greensburg Central Catholic quarterback Trent Hurley. "When you're out there playing, you don't even realize it. I'll wear my long-sleeve Under Armor and my hand warmer, and I'm good to go."
Much focus has been placed in recent years upon protecting football players from summer heat while educating coaches about the dangers. Little is said about extreme cold. That's just part of playing football, insists most involved with the high school game. It's hardly even a thought.
"That's Pennsylvania football weather," said Melissa Mertz, assistant executive director of the PIAA, adding that the state has no recommendations defining how cold would be too cold to play. "That's pretty much what they're all used to. They're so pumped up, and they're so ready for the game. They have so much adrenaline going."
Forecasts call for temperatures near freezing in Hershey when the afternoon games kick off Friday and Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium. Clairton (14-1) will play Bishop McCort (14-0) at 1 p.m. Friday in the Class A championship game. Greensburg Central Catholic (13-2) will play Lancaster Catholic (14-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Class AA.
The cold brings added an challenge for coaches, players, trainers and fans.
"Everything hurts a lot more when it's cold out," said Dr. Greg Bisignani, adding that he's seen a few cases of frostbite during his 11 years as Greensburg Central Catholic's team doctor. "Even a bruise hurts a lot more when it's cold. And pulled muscles are always a concern."
The players most affected by cold are those who play only offense or defense, Bisignani said. For them, GCC has sideline jackets, oversized coats that fit around a player's shoulder pads. Clairton does not have those coats, but athletic director Anthony Ferrare said he'd like to see his school purchase them.
"That's one thing that's on our wish list, because the past two years for us have been 16-week season," Ferrare said. "A jacket is something we should fundraise for. It's not a must-have item, but it would give us a little bit of an edge."
Unlike the NFL and college, sideline heaters are rare on high school sidelines. Farrell had a torpedo heater on its sideline for last week's game against Clairton, and the players noticed.
"It would have been nice to have one of those," said Clairton quarterback Desimon Green, who completed only three passes in the frigid 13-7 victory. "I don't want to make excuses, but (the cold) affected us."
During last season's run through the playoffs, Howard bought his thermal insulating shirt, gloves and mask. And they aren't cheap — the most popular, those made by Under Armor, cost $60 for a shirt. He wore the sleeves during the semifinal but said he won't wear them in Hershey.
"Cold weather is cold weather," Howard said. "It's mostly mental. If you're thinking that it's cold, then you're psyching yourself out. Just get out there and play the game."