Six high schools, including two defending state champions and two 2014 semifinalists, will play Friday night and Saturday at Cramton Bowl as the 10th annual Champions Challenge officially kicks off the 2015 prep football season for the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
The head coaches and selected players gathered at the AHSAA Tuesday for the Champions Challenge press conference. Media on hand came in early for the annual AHSAA Media Day. Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange was on hand to welcome the media there to cover the press conference.
Three-time defending Class 3A state champion Madison Academy will be riding a 14-game winning streak into Friday night’s Champions Challenge opener against defending Class 4A state champion Leeds. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. The Mustangs lost to the Green Wave 27-24 in the season opener last season at Huntsville – a loss that snapped a 25-game winning streak.
Coach Eric Cohu’s team rebounded to win 14 in a row, beating Glencoe 31-28 on a last-second field goal in the Class 3A semifinals and then beat Dale County 70-34 in the 3A championship game at Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium last December.
Leeds won seven in a row to open the 2014 season, then lost to Dadeville 20-14, then Coach Keith Etheredge’s Green Wave reeled off seven more wins to claim their third state title since 2009 with a 30-0 triumph over Deshler in the 4A finals at Jordan-Hare.
Etheredge, 94-32, has seen his team compile a 66-7 on-the-field record over the last five years while Cohu’s team has gone 64-7 during that same stretch. Leeds posted four shutouts in five playoff wins last season, outscoring those opponents 206-14. Madison Academy scored 722 points on the season. Cohu has a 114-22 overall record including 76-10 with the Mustangs.
The Champions Challenge will continue on Saturday with a double-header featuring Class 3A semifinalists Glencoe and Gordo in the 5 p.m. game at Cramton Bowl and Class 6A Carver-Montgomery versus Class 7A Bob Jones in the final game at 7:30 p.m.
Gordo , 13-1 last year, lost on the final play of its semifinal game versus Dale County 32-28. The Green Wave of Coach Ryan Lolley has compiled a 20-5 record in his two seasons as head coach. Led by linebacker Ben Davis, Gordo touts a strong defensive team – reflective of the school’s storied history dating back to its first season in 1915. The Green Wave has a 555-348-32 record overall during that span. Glencoe, which fielded its first team in 1922, is 491-381-26 overall with Coach Lee Ozmint’s Yellow Jackets compiling a 45-16 record over the last five seasons.
Carver-Montgomery won the Class 6A, Region 2 title last season and finished 9-3 overall in 2014. The Wolverines have gone 38-12 in Coach Billy Gresham’s four seasons as head coach and are 46-16 over the last five seasons. Bob Jones, 8-3 in 2014, finished second in Class 7A, Region 8 behind region winner Gadsden City. The Patriots fell to Tuscaloosa County in the state playoffs last year 28-21.
Coach Kevin Rose, who joined the Bob Jones staff in 2008, has been head coach the last seven seasons compiling a 57-15 record which ties for second among 7A schools during that span. Only defending 7A champion Hoover has won more games in that span.
The Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA) hosts the series, which played its first Champions Challenge at Cramton Bowl in 2006.
Last year was the first year that schools have had 11 weeks to play 10 games and the first year for the new seven-classification system. Schools still have a choice whether to count any week one contest as a regular-season or jamboree contest. The Carver-Bob Jones and Gordo-Glencoe games will remain as exhibition games and will not count on either team's record since all four already have 10 regular-season games scheduled. The Leeds vs. Madison Academy clash will be a regular-season game. Both schools will have 10 weeks to play their remaining nine games.
All six schools are taking the playoff-type approach, however. “Our kids were really devastated with the season ended like it did last year,” Gordo’s Lolley said. “We are a hungry team. I am sure Glencoe felt the same way. We feel this is such a big honor to be able to kick off the season in the Champions Challenge on such a big stage.”
The 2015 Champions Challenge will be televised live and web-streamed by AHSAA TV partner Raycom Media. Stations in the network can be found at www.ahsaa.com. The AHSAA Radio Network will also broadcast all three games live. The AHSAA Radio Network affiliates can also be found at www.ahsaa.com. Live stats will also be available online at www.ahsaa.com.
The Champions Challenge schedule is:
Friday, August 21 – 7 p.m.: Madison Academy (14-1) vs. Leeds (14-1)
Saturday, August 22 – 5 p.m.: Glencoe (13-1) vs. Gordo (13-1)
Saturday, August 22 – 7:30 p.m.: Carver-Montgomery (9-3) vs. Bob Jones (8-3)
CHAMPIONS CHALLENGE HISTORY
Spanish Fort 42, Stanhope Elmore 14
Opelika 20, Carver-Montgomery 16
Dadeville 14, Piedmont 8
Benjamin Russell 28, Walker 14
Straughn 35, Walter Wellborn 26
Bob Jones 23, Enterprise 20
Spanish Fort 33, Muscle Shoals 22
Central of Clay County 25, Beauregard 13
McGill-Toolen 27, Northridge 0
Hueytown 36, Thomasville 27
Hamilton 38, Sweet Water 35
Daphne 24, Clay-Chalkville 21
Opelika 34, Greenville 6
Auburn 30, Spain Park 3
Jackson 30, Trinity 8
Prattville 37, Carver-Montgomery 0
T.R. Miller 27, Leeds 7
Hoover 32, Oxford 27
Prattville vs. Oxford, canceled due to inclement weather
Prattville 36, North Gwinnett, Ga. 3
Hoover 38, UMS-Wright 0
Clay-County 41, Addison 6
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (August 13, 2015) – The number of participants in high school sports increased for the 26th consecutive year in 2014-15 – topping the 7.8 million mark for the first time – according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Based on figures from the 51 NFHS member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia, the number of participants in high school sports reached an all-time high of 7,807,047 – an increase of 11,389 from the previous year.
While boys participation dipped 8,682 from the previous year, girls participation increased for the 26th consecutive year with an additional 20,071 participants and set an all-time high of 3,287,735. The boys participation total of 4,519,312 is No. 2 all-time behind the 2013-14 total of 4,527,994.
The top 10 states by participants remained in the same order as last year, with Texas and California topping the list with 804,598 and 797,101, respectively. The remainder of the top 10 was New York (389,475), Illinois (340,972), Ohio (319,929), Pennsylvania (319,562), Michigan (295,660), New Jersey (279,377), Florida (267,954) and Minnesota (235,243). Alabama ranked 21st nationally and fourth in Section 3 with 123,339 high school participants. The AHSAA numbers include 80,510 boys and 42,829 girls. AHSAA’s top boys’ sports by participation were football (31,468), basketball (12,860) and baseball (12,080). The top girls’ participation sports were softball (9,338), volleyball (9,202) and basketball (8,349). The AHSAA numbers totaled 130,791 when factoring in cheerleading and bowling, programs not figured in championship sports results reported to the NFHS in 2014-15. Bowling will be a championship sport in 2015-16 and cheerleading is currently an activity that has an independent championship program, but is endorsed by the AHSAA.
Six of the top 10 girls sports registered increases in participation this past year, led by competitive spirit squads (5,170 additional participants) and cross country (3,495). While track and field remained the No. 1 sport for girls with 478,726 participants, volleyball (432,176) moved ahead of basketball (429,504) to secure the No. 2 spot. Ten years ago, basketball was No. 1 for girls, followed by track and field, and volleyball.
Among the top 10 boys sports, soccer registered the largest gain with an additional 15,150 participants, while wrestling (11,306) and 11-player football (9,617) had the largest declines in participation. Besides soccer, other top 10 boys sports that had increases in the number of participants were baseball (3,938) and basketball (425).
“Overall, we are pleased with this year’s participation report indicating an increase for the 26th consecutive year,” said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director. “And while football participation dropped this past year, the decrease is not that significant when you consider more than 1.1 million boys and girls are involved in the sport at the high school level.
“Despite other out-of-school opportunities that exist in some sports, this year’s survey is yet another confirmation that our model of education-based sports within the high school setting is the No. 1 choice for boys and girls nationwide. We applaud the more than 19,000 high schools across the country for continuing to provide these important programs despite the funding challenges that exist in some areas.”
Eleven-player football remains the runaway leader in boys participants with 1,083,617, followed by outdoor track and field (578,632), basketball (541,479), baseball (486,567) and soccer (432,569). The remainder of the top 10 is wrestling (258,208), cross country (250,981), tennis (157,240), golf (148,823) and swimming/diving (137,087).
After outdoor track and field, volleyball and basketball, the remainder of the top 10 girls sports are soccer (375,681), fast-pitch softball (364,103), cross country (221,616), tennis (182,876), swimming/diving (166,838), competitive spirit squads (125,763) and lacrosse (84,785).
Among some of the non-traditional high school sports on this year’s survey, archery and riflery registered significant increases in participation. An additional 2,877 participants (boys and girls) in archery brings the overall total to 7,744 with schools in eight states sponsoring the sport. Riflery was up 1,010 participants for a total of 4,238 with competition in 10 states. Also, while boys wrestling was down by more than 11,000 this past year, the number of girls participating in the sport increased by 1,592 for a total of 11,496.
The participation survey has been compiled since 1971 by the NFHS through numbers it receives from its member associations. The complete 2014-15 High School Athletics Participation Survey is attached in PDF format and will be posted soon on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.
High school football coaches remember the old days when playing football meant long, punishing practices, when intense blocking and tackling drills were meant to cull the weak from the strong and drinking water in practice was only for weaklings.
Clay-Chalkville High School head football coach Jerry Hood says he is glad those days are gone forever.
“A lot of the things we learned as players and early in our coaching careers, there’s better ways to do those things now,” Hood said. “We practiced tackling all this summer with just helmets on because we are teaching a new way to tackle that keeps the head out of it. We think those kinds of things are very effective.”
As the game of high school football’s playing rules have changed, so have the techniques and the emphasis on teaching. Practice sessions for AHSAA schools are now spent concentrating on the fundamental techniques that are designed to make the sport safer. Hood, who led the Cougars to a 15-0 season in 2014 and the Class 6A state football championship, says the game has now evolved to one that is safer than it has ever been. He said a recent study by Michigan State University has shown that current tackling and blocking fundamentals are reducing concussions.
“The way offensive and defensive linemen play with their hands these days, there are a lot less head and shoulder collisions in the interior offensive and defensive lines than it used to be,” Hood said. “So, things have changed drastically in our teaching techniques.
“I think the game is now much safer than it was 20 years ago and safer than it was even 10 years ago.”
Hood said it starts in the grassroots – at practice. It is a philosophy that has helped the game of football evolve into a showcase of athleticism, speed and excitement.
“Our coaches at the high school level have reached down to the youth league level and the middle school coaches,” Hood explained. “We’re smarter about what happens to the body when you go through football practice and football games. We watch it much more carefully.”
“I think neck strength has a lot to do with it. The Michigan State study shows that it correlates to a reduction in concussions. I also think our helmet hardware is better, and I think the sport is much, much safer than it used to be.”
Dothan High School football coach Kelvis White also points to the rules’ changes that allow offensive linemen to use their upper-body strength by extending their arms as another major reason the game is much safer. White says teaching those techniques must also include intense strength training and some psychology by the coaches to convince the players that the new techniques do work best.
White said when parents question his staff’s more modern teaching styles, he points out: “The game has changed. Kids today are bigger, stronger and faster so the impact is much greater. I tell the parents that by today’s standards, we want to keep the players safe so they can have a healthy lifestyle when they are through with football.”
White said he has learned to hang on to the good teaching practices of men like his own dad Louis White. Louis directed Courtland High School to four Class 1A state titles during his 30-year coaching career and was inducted into the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
“My dad was an open book,” White said. “His practices were always open. If a kid had a problem, they talked to him and if a parent had a question, they talked to him. I try to do the same now and keep an open line of communication so the players and parents can learn to trust me. My dad had a lot of old school in him, but at the same time, the kids always came first.”
Central-Phenix City High School athletic director, volleyball and basketball coach Carolyn Wright said coaches in each AHSAA sport are promoting best health and safety practices.
“It starts first with a pre-participation physical,” she said. “It give us some idea of a student’s physical condition going into a season,” she said. “We always start our practices with a dynamic warm-up, then do our stretching. There is no option … we do it every practice in volleyball and basketball before we move into our normal drills.”
She said water is available in the gym at all times, and breaks are taken with the frequency dependent on the intensity of each drill. She says good coaching is more than teaching them how to shoot or dribble or run or jump.
“Our conditioning program deals with getting the core stronger,” she said. “We try to concentrate on diet by giving them a good synopsis of what they should be eating and things they should try to stay away from. We try to keep them drinking more water and not sodas and beverages like that. Getting the proper rest is also very important. We tell our players after practice to get home, do their homework, get a bath and then get in bed.”
“Our coaches are much more educated in Alabama thanks to the programs of the AHSAA and are very conscious about what it takes to keep the kids healthy.
“With me, I have been in the business for so long that I can tell the difference in a slight twist and a more serious injury just by the sound of the player’s voice and by the way they fall. I am here to tell you that there are a lot of other coaches out there just as experienced as I am.”
Thompson High School football coach and athletic director Mark Freeman called his former Spanish Fort High School player Alex McKeever last week on the first day of football practice just to tell him hello. He wanted to hear his voice one more time.
He said it was the most enjoyable phone call he’s ever made – and he hopes to make the same call each August for the next 50 years.
Alex, a sophomore last year, was going through drills on the first day of practice with Freeman’s then Spanish Fort Toros when the 6-foot-4 youngster collapsed in cardiac arrest. What happened next was a miracle, Freeman said, for many reasons.
Spanish Fort had an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place for football practice – one Freeman said his staff, trainers and coaches practiced often. It worked to perfection.
All member schools of the Alabama High School Athletic Association are required to have EAPs on file when audited. The AHSAA, however, stresses the importance of having emergency action plans for after school activities by requiring schools to have an EAP for practice and games for every sport and every venue. It was a main focus of the AHSAA Summer Conference last month.
A template designed to help schools develop a plan is available to all schools. The AHSAA also recently provided each member high school and middle school an EAP program template designed by the Minnesota State High School League entitled Anyone Can Save A Life that utilizes students in roles of responsibility. This is an essential step-by-step plan that is designed for schools with few coaches or sports where one coach may be the only adult in the gym or on the field with a team on a regular basis. This plan shows how anyone, students or adults, can help save a life when a crisis occurs – if they know and practice their roles.
The AHSAA auditors now check those plans when conducting school audits. Each high school and middle school is audited yearly.
“Our preparedness saved Alex’s life,” Freeman said. “Everyone knew their task, from the coach who called 911, to the coach who called the parents to the coach who directed the emergency vehicle into and out of the stadium. We actually had two AEDs (automated external defibrillator) on hand and we needed them.”
Freeman said his certified athletic trainer (Rob Milam) had an AED and the team had one. They had to use them both when the first one began to fail.
“Alex’s heart had stopped, but Rob revived him and the paramedics arrived in time to get him to a local hospital. The rest was even more miraculous,” Freeman said. “He was able to recover fully, and when we played in the Champions Challenge at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl three weeks later, he and his family were on hand watching from the press box.”
He said he now tells his coaches all the time that he learned two important things from AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee co-chairman Dr. (Jimmy) Robinson at the AHSAA’s mandatory medical advisory meeting at the Summer Conference the year before.
“I learned that if someone is suffering from a heat related illness, they have 100 percent recovery if action is taken within 10 minutes. If not, then it can be disastrous. So we keep an ice tub ready at each practice.”
“When Alex collapsed, we had the ice tub ready but his situation was not about heat. The second thing I learned is that emergency action plans are a must – and the plan must be practiced so everyone knows what their roles are.”
Freeman said he hopes to never have to use an EAP ever again, “but if we have to, then we will be ready,” he said. “The most important thing I brought with me to my new position at Thompson is the EAP. I learned from that experience last year that an emergency is going to come when you least expect it. That situation happened early in the first day of fall practice, our least strenuous day. We were only in our fifth session when Alex suffered his cardiac arrest. I thank God every day that we were prepared.”
Goshen High School football coach and athletic director Bart Snyder is also a very vocal proponent of being prepared. Emergency action plans are not just about knowing where the AED is located,” he said. “It is about taking seriously the training that is available, taking seriously the importance of practicing the plan and making sure everyone, from the coaches, players and the volunteers who might be parking the vehicles at a game, knows what to do.”
Snyder remembers an emergency crisis at his school a few years ago.
“We had an incident that took place in our gym during a girls’ basketball game,” he said. “We had a kid to fall out. During that time, our coaches responded quickly – having been trained to know CPR. Having plans in place enabled us to respond and gave the injured student an opportunity to survive.”
Like Freeman, Snyder said his coaches, students and school practice those plans often.
“We’ll rehearse those plans during fall practice in case something else were to happen,” Snyder said. “Of course, like coaches we hope it doesn’t, but we know we must be prepared just in case. When we practice a crisis situation, we usually let the students know in advance because we don’t want them to panic. Later in the year (after their initial training), we may stage something without informing them just so we can see how everyone will respond.
“In that one particular case I mentioned earlier, the kids that were there responded and helped us. You just couldn’t imagine how well they responded given the situation. It is amazing just what kids can do in certain situations when called upon.”
Snyder is a firm believer in safety education. He said no one will ever hear him complain of the AHSAA requirements placed on each coach. He says few businesses require their supervisors to be as well-trained in safety as high school coaches.
AHSAA rules require all coaches, faculty and non-faculty, to undergo health and safety education training before even stepping on a court or field to work with the student-athletes. The requirements include completing the NFHS Principles of Coaching and Sports Safety and First Aid courses online. All coaches must also be CPR and AED certified at all times, which requires annual training, and they must also complete the NFHS Concussion Awareness and Heat Illness Prevention courses online. The NFHS offers a Cardiac Arrest course that has been recommended for all AHSAA coaches, and through a joint effort with LifeStart, each school now has its own AED to use in emergencies and also to use in classroom training.
Snyder said the tools provided by the AHSAA has helped him become a better coach and helped him better prepare his staff.
“We always try to put safety first,” he said. “We preach to our incoming coaches that whatever we do the child’s safety is number one. We don’t ever want to put our children into a place where they could overheat or become injured due to our mistake.
“So, we’re not going to do anything without thinking safety first.”
NEXT: Final part of this five-part series addresses the importance of coaching technique.
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!