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News Story
Updated: 05/02/2013 08:00:03AM

Something about safety

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Larry Jewett

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The warmer weather is approaching (those who have had perpetual winter are so jealous. It was 83 in Denver Monday and they have a chance of snow today). Generally, nice weather brings outdoor activity, but there is inherent danger in the fun in the sun.

The Florida High School Athletic Association had an item on their latest meeting agenda to deal with what is called “Heat Acclimatization,” which is also known as Policy 39. The gist of the changes surrounded reducing the length of practice time in the first two weeks of the affected sports scheduled from 3 1⁄2 hours down to three hours (to be consistent with NCAA and other standards).

The main attention focused on football, which is starting non-contact organized practice tomorrow with the pads coming out next week. The proposed guidelines would allow only helmets for the first two days and bring shoulder pads in for days three through five. Full gear and body contact would be allowed on day six. There would be a limit of 24 hours of practice during the week encompassing days 8-14. Conditioning would be limited to three hours a day.

The disposition of these changes was unknown at press time and may have come too late to make a difference in 2013 if they are approved. The penalties for violation of Policy 39 are pretty stiff as it is with coaches found in violation to sit out two contests on first offense. Coaches are generally very concerned about the safety and well-being of their players, but a system of checks and balances is never a bad thing.

The scrutiny of athletics is strong and has been increasing. Reports of players suffering fatal injury on practice fields, while rare, tend to make headlines and bring well-intended guardians to beat the drum of their causes. A little common sense is always in order since some of the situations were simply unpreventable. The problem comes when the mindset switches to “it can’t happen here” and that takes over. It can happen anywhere and doing everything possible in advance as a preventive measure can be a great assurance in a quality program.

Just before the NFL draft, a letter showed up in my email inbox from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding injuries. Before you get the wrong idea, though I have been known to use the commissioner’s correspondence to my advantage to impress others, it was a mass email to all of those who play fantasy football at www.nfl.com. Nonetheless, it had value about programs designed to protect the younger football crowd from injury while enjoying the game.

USA Football, the entity that connects NFL teams with area youth football programs, is embarking on a new program called “Heads Up Football.” The commissioner’s letter stated that “No matter what level they play, all football players should be taught the proper fundamentals and know that their safety is the top priority as they participate in the sport they love.”

Heads Up Football will be providing instruction and certification to coaches with each league having a “Player Safety Coach,” who is trained by USA Football. Coaches, parents and players affiliated with a Heads Up Football league will learn about tackling (“The head is always up in order to lessen the risk of head or neck injuries”) concussion recognition and response and proper equipment fitting.

The program was tried out in three markets last year and will expand to more than 900 youth leagues across the country. Former NFL players will be utilized to roll out the program to coaches, administrators, parents and players.

“We want to institute a culture of safety at every level of the game and we encourage youth coaches, players and parents to join us,” said Goodell.


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