When Herman L. “Bubba” Scott, became executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association in the mid-1960s, there was no standard for helmet safety for high school football.
However, much changed during his 25-year tenure at the AHSAA thanks in big part to Scott’s leadership as part of the National Federation of State High School Associations Football Rules Committee.
Scott served on the committee for 23 years spending nine as vice chairman and four as chairman from 1976-1990. It was during his leadership tenure that helmet safety regulations were put in place that are still impacting the sport of football and making it safer.
Scott joined the NFHS Football Rules committee in 1967. One year later, the climate began to change after 1968 when 32 fatalities were documented from head and neck injuries directly due to participation in the sport in organized competition.
In 1969, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) was formed to commission research directed at injury reduction. Research began with football being targeted for their initial research effort.
Researchers found that 1968 was not the norm. In fact, research showed that the incidence of head injury fatalities had been averaging less than two per 100,000 athletes. However, most agreed that some sort of helmet safety standard must be developed as a guide for NFHS member schools.
Forging ahead, a testing system was devised in 1970 and by 1973 the test standard was published for the first time. In 1975, one of the nation’s leading helmet re-conditioners found that 84 percent of the helmets tested failed the NOCSAE drop test.
Scott, a former college and high school football coach himself, helped spearhead rules changes in the high school game that went into effect in 1980 requiring all NFHS high school teams to use helmets that carried the NOCSAE certified stamp.
Now, 35 years later, NOCSAE is still the defining organization on helmet safety. According to NFHS rules, AHSAA member schools must use new helmets that carry the NOCSAE certification stamp and must re-certify used helmets based on helmet manufacturer recommendations. Most manufacturers recommend re-certifying helmets by having them re-conditioned a minimum of every two years. Most AHSAA member schools re-condition helmets annually.
Reconditioned helmets must also carry the NOCSAE certification sticker and must display the date of original purchase. Each helmet manufacturer sets the shelf life of its helmets and the warranty. Once that warranty expires, the helmet is no longer used. The date of origin is also displayed on a helmet.
Clay-Chalkville High School head football coach Jerry Hood said the protocol surrounding helmet safety is now automatic as far as he is concerned. We do what we have always done, he said.
“We have our helmets redone every year and make sure they are fitted properly,” he said.
Dothan High School head football coach Kelvis White said football rules, many which changed during Scott’s tenure on the NFHS Football Rules committee, have also made the game safer, but requiring safety standards for equipment such as helmets is essential.
White, the son and nephew of AHSAA Hall of Fame coaches Louis White and Mylun White, said helmet safety is a top priority at his school.
“Our principal doesn’t cut cost on helmets,” White said. "They have the Virginia Tech 5-star rating, and all our helmets are the best helmets we can get.”
White, considered one of the best interior line coaches in the state, added, “Even a 5-star helmet isn’t going to protect you if you use it improperly. That’s why we spend so much time teaching technique that is designed to get the head out of the contact. We get our helmets re-conditioned every year, but at the same time we still emphasize that technique by coaching them the right way.”
White said rules allowing kids to extend their arms revolutionized the game at the high school level. That is why it is also important to spend time in the weight room developing players’ upper body strength.
“A stronger kid is going to trust his technique more than a timid kid because the natural thing to do is to duck his head when he sees a big ole’ back coming his way,” White said. “It isn’t just about being stronger. If you are confident in your ability and your weights and you feel good that you can use your hands to protect yourself, then you can use technique and not have to get your head involved.”
Montgomery Academy head football coach and athletic director Anthony McCall said he has learned a lot about helmet safety since becoming a head football coach thanks to AHSAA education at rules clinics, the AHSAA Summer Conference medical advisory meetings and football clinics.
“At Montgomery Academy, I am proud to say we have our helmets certified annually,” McCall said. “As soon as the season is over, within two weeks we are calling the company and telling them to come pick up our helmets. What they are looking at now, and something I wasn’t aware of until a couple of years ago, is that helmets have a shelf life.
“Just last year, we had to discard about 30 helmets and purchase new helmets. That is something we take seriously – making sure each year our helmets and other equipment are up to par for our student-athletes. We share this with our parents so they will know that the helmets and equipment we are putting their children in are the best that we can provide for them.
McCall said the shelf life stamp of a helmet is easy to see.
“It shows the year it was actually made and when the shelf life expires,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a company that looks at that for us, and they won’t attempt to re-condition that helmet if it is expired. As part of the reconditioning and recertification, the helmets are getting new facemasks, are being cleaned (inside and out), the whole nine yards. In some ways, we are basically getting a new helmet back when we recertify them.
“We know that we can’t put a price on the safety of our kids, so whatever the cost of doing that, we do it annually.”
In Scott’s first year as vice-chairman of the Football Rules Committee in 1976, rules-making committees were responsible for initiating changes which prohibited initial contact of the head in blocking and tackling and removed spearing from football. These changes have helped to significantly reduce quadriplegic injuries as well as other serious and fatal head injuries.
Scott’s national impact did not go unnoticed by the NFHS. He was inducted into the NFHS High School Hall of Fame in 1990 and is one of only 42 individuals to receive the NFHS prestigious Award of Merit (1992). Other notable recipients have been former President Gerald Ford, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Walter Byers, the first NCAA executive director.
Other Alabamians have played key roles in educating coaches.
Cliff Harper, the AHSAA executive director before Scott, designed the illustrated rule book the NFHS still uses today to instruct football contest officials. Dan Washburn, who followed Scott as executive director in 1991, worked with the AHSAA Central Board to set up an emphasis on sportsmanship through the Star Sportsmanship program created by Learning Through Sports that has been completed by more than 200,000 student-athletes, coaches, administrators, contest officials and parents since its inception in 2007. And during current Executive Director Steve Savarese’s tenure, more than 11,000 coaches and administrators have completed the NFHS Concussion Awareness and Heat Illness Prevention courses which are now required by the AHSAA for each faculty and non-faculty coach in all sports.
Since 1990, AHSAA Director of Officials Greg Brewer has served on the NFHS Football Rules Committee.
Parents wanting to know more about helmet safety can go to NOCSAE’s website: www. http://nocsae.org/.
UP NEXT: PART 4 OF THE SERIES: THE IMPORTANCE OF EMERGENCY ACTION PLANS FOR ATHLETICS
Football teams in the AHSAA opened practice this week with some new regulations in place concerning full-speed contact designed to reduce injuries.
Fred Riley, head football coach and athletic director at Davidson High School in Mobile, said, “No big deal.”
He wasn’t trying to be cavalier – quite the contrary. He said schools had already been following that protocol for years.
After much study, the AHSAA introduced some football practice guideline recommendations in 2013 that limited the amount of full-speed contact student-athletes undergo each week during practice. Those guidelines were cited for reducing injuries in a study by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) last winter when the national governing body of high schools announced its own recommendations.
The AHSAA Central Board of Control, on the recommendation of the AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee and Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA) last spring, adopted the recommendations as bylaws – thus insuring that all schools follow these guidelines in their practice regimen each week from preseason until the end of the season.
The guidelines give specific limits concerning full-speed contact beginning with Week 1 of the preseason right up to the first game and then states limits once the season begins.
Riley said his school has been limiting full-speed contact in practice for the last 11 years. And he has been amazed at the results.
“The biggest thing is that we really don’t have an issue,” Riley said. “You know a lot of the new practice protocol (of the AHSAA) going into place we have been doing for 11 years. We were ahead of the curve. We haven’t gone to the ground in a practice in 11 years with full contact and a full-fledged winner no more than about two days a week.”
He said his players have had only six concussions in that time span.
“Of the six concussions we have had, four came in games and most were the result of a knee hitting a helmet in a pile in a scrum and not as a head-to-head thing,” Riley added. “That just doesn’t happen very often.”
The AHSAA protocol limits full-speed contact to just 90 minutes per player during the first week of practice. Teams are in shorts and helmets the first two days, in shoulder pads and helmets on day three for no more than 90 minutes total practice time, and in shoulder pads and helmets on day four for no more than 120 minutes.
On the fifth practice day, one full-speed contact practice, in full gear, is allowed not to exceed 90 minutes.
At no time can schools have back-to-back days of two-a-day practices.
Week 2 allows alternating days of full-speed contact practice, not to exceed a combined total of 120 minutes of full-speed contact is allowed. In addition, one intra-squad scrimmage is allowed.
During Week 3, alternating days of full-speed practice, not to exceed 120 minutes of full contact is allowed. One interscholastic scrimmage or contest is allowed in Week 3.
During Week 4 through end of the season, a total of 90 minutes of full-speed contact practice per week is allowed.
Loachapoka High School football coach and athletic director Jerome Tate says he fully supports the practice regulations.
“I think the AHSAA is way ahead of other states in what we are doing as far as safety for our kids with our concussion awareness,” Tate said. “And now the cardiac arrest training and other stuff the AHSAA does (for us) is preparing us even more. I think it is very important for coaches, especially when you are dealing with young lives, to be aware of what is going on, what the rules are and what you can and cannot do.”
He chuckles when he remembers his own days as a high school football player.
“Those olden days of being able to push you until your drop, they are long gone. So you have to be conscious of what you are doing out there all of the time.”
Alvin Briggs, Director of the AHSADCA, said member-school coaches have long been supportive of anything that can make the game of football safer.
He pointed out that more than 11,000 coaches and administrators took the NFHS Concussion Awareness course online prior to 2013 and have been practicing full-speed contact limits for many years.
“Our coaches have shown tremendous support of these guidelines,” he said.
Riley said he wasn’t surprised that Alabama’s high school coaches ranked third nationally for the NFHS in completing the concussion awareness course offered.
“The only reason we weren’t first is because some states were more populated than us would be my guess,” Riley said. “This has always been a state that cares. From the time I played high school sports I was coached by professionals.”
“Kids now grow up in an era where everybody thinks they are a coach. I mean everyone has a shirt with the word “coach” on the back and that makes them a coach. That’s not how it is at the high school level.”
“The true professionals in this state are the ones that do it for a living in our schools, and it has always been that way. I have been coached by professional people all my entire life- people who know what they are supposed to do and who stay on top of the cutting edge educationally. They always have been and it just keeps getting better and better.”
Next: Helmet Certification Is Mandatory for AHSAA Schools.
AHSAA 2015-16 Guidelines
For Full-Speed Contact during Football Practices
Summary: The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s (AHSAA) bylaw governing the amount of full-speed contact practice during the football season. This bylaw regards the amount of time during which full-speed contact practice is allowed.
AHSAA Regulations: During the regular season, including championship play, and the allowed 10-day spring evaluation period, AHSAA member schools must restrict the amount of full-speed contact football practice. These guidelines are intended to limit the amount of full-speed contact and not to limit the number of practices in full pads.
Week 1 – In accordance with the AHSAA Fall Football Practice Rule (Rule III, Section 18, Page 44 of the 2015-16 Handbook), only shorts and helmets are allowed the first two days of fall football practice. Shoulder pads and helmets are allowed on the third practice day for a period not to exceed 90 minutes of total practice time and not exceed 120 (2 hours) minutes on the fourth day.
On the fifth practice day, one full-speed contact practice, in full gear, is allowed not to exceed 90 minutes.
Week 2 – Alternating days of full-speed contact practice, not to exceed a combined total of 120 minutes of full-speed contact is allowed. In addition, one intra-squad scrimmage is allowed in week 2.
Week 3 – Alternating days of full-speed contact practice, not to exceed a combined total of 120 minutes of full contact is allowed. One interscholastic scrimmage or contest is allowed in week 3.
Week 4 through End of Season – A total of 90 minutes of full-speed contact practice per week is allowed.
Spring Evaluation – Alternating days of full-speed contact practice, not to exceed a combined total of 120 minutes of full-speed contact per week is allowed during the 10 allowable days for evaluation. One interscholastic scrimmage contest is allowed during the spring evaluation and counts as one of the 10 allowable days.
The following definitions describe the different levels of contact in football practice:
Actions that require contact limitations:
Live Action – Contact at game speed in which players execute full blocking and tackling at a competitive pace, taking players to the ground.
Full-speed contact - Any simulations in which live action occurs.
Thud – Any live action or full-speed contact with no pre-determined winner or without taking a player to the ground.
Actions that do NOT require contact limitations:
Air – Players should run unopposed without bags or any opposition.
Bags – Activity is executed against a bag, shield or pad to allow for a soft-contact surface, with or without the resistance of a teammate or coach standing behind the bag.
High school student-athletes reported to school Monday to begin preparations for the upcoming Alabama High School Athletic Association football, volleyball, cross country and swimming seasons.
And as in years past, the emphasis on health and safety is upper most on all coaches and administrators’ minds.
Beginning today, the AHSAA is producing a series that will provide insight concerning the best health and safety practices of its member schools and the many areas of focus that are making sports safer in 2015-16.
Football teams will be following AHSAA practice regulations that were recommendations in 2014-15. While most schools were already following these best health and safety practices, the contact limitation regulations are now required.
Additionally, with the hot August days ahead, schools are also following guidelines that limit the length of football practices and that prohibit two straight days of two-a-day practices.
All high schools and middle schools were required to attend a mandatory session presented by the AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee at the recent AHSAA Summer Conference in Montgomery. The session dealt chiefly with heat illness awareness, concussion awareness and Emergency Action Plans (EAP). All schools are required to have EAPs for practice and games at each venue.
Vestavia Hills High School football coach Buddy Anderson, the state’s all-time prep leader in wins with 311 heading into his 38th season as head coach and 44th season overall, says the game of high school football is now safer than ever before.
“Health and safety have always been our number one priorities,” said Anderson, who owns a 311-132 record as the Rebels’ head football coach. “As much as I believe in athletics, and as much as I believe in the values that football teaches, health and safety is the number one thing.
“We leave it up to our doctors and our trainer to let us know if someone does not need to practice or does not need to play. That is totally left up to them because they are the ones that know more about young lady or young man and if they are able to do the things we are asking them to do. That’s our main goal … their health and safety.”
Anderson said the attention placed on heat and concussion awareness by the AHSAA is among the chief reasons the game is safer today. He remembers a time when coaches were left on their own to learn what they could.
“When I first started coaching, we would go to conferences to learn what we could,” he said. “Back then we were our own trainers and now we are very fortunate to have certified trainers (at practices and games).”
He remembers one incident in the late 1980s that resonates still today. He admitted they had limited knowledge then but put into practice what they knew.
“We had an incident with a player who ended up with a heat stroke,” Anderson said. “We as coaches iced him down, put him in an ice bath and put ice on all the pressure points. The paramedics came and as they were getting ready to transport him they took the ice off. They didn’t even know the right protocol, but we had studied to know that and felt like we ended up saving the young man’s life.”
Anderson said they found out later that he had been taking medicine that affected his ability to cool down.
“He was in great shape and he was going to be recruited and ended up having a great career at Southern Miss’” Anderson said. “He felt like he was coming down with a cold, so he had taken an antihistamine to clear up the cold.”
The doctor learned from his mother that the player had been taking the medication.
“His antihistamine level was off the chart, the doctor told us. “It didn’t dawn on me (then) but antihistamines dry you up. You know, when you are out practicing in the heat that makes it even worse. The doctor said he was about 25 times more susceptible of getting a heat stroke, so the next thing we did was find out which kids were on an antihistamine. “
“We realized too that a lot of teenagers are taking stuff for acne which also dries the skin up … and I had been to all these clinics and had not heard that. It started coming out about these kinds of concerns. You have to be ahead of the game.’’
When practice started Monday, Anderson’s trainer knew each student that might be taking medication and kept an eye on those especially.
Anderson said this is common practice now – not just at Vestavia Hills but at all AHSAA member schools.
Anderson said he is thankful that many schools now have certified athletic trainers.
“We try to be as proactive as we can on that. We still go to clinics to learn about more, and our trainer is updating himself for anything that he needs to be aware of.”
The veteran coach said emergency action plans are also now a way of life at his school.
“We have our emergency action plan,” Anderson said, “That is meticulous and well thought out. It has transferred over into all areas whether it is a practice or a game or anything like that. We have an EAP for every sport and every venue (now).”
Tomorrow: What AHSAA Schools do to make practices safer!