The way high school fall sports teams conduct preseason practices is changing.
On June 22, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and the Maryland State Department of Education released a model policy to provide guidance for local school systems regarding a heat acclimatization program for student-athletes.
A new state law implemented Sunday requires all local school systems to formulate specific guidelines for student-athletes to adapt to practicing and playing in hot weather.
A committee of physicians and representatives from the MPSSAA, MSDE, local school systems, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Maryland Athletic Trainers Association formed the model policy. Individual counties are free to institute their own regulations, but they are strongly encouraged to follow the model policy. Preseason practices for public school fall sports are scheduled to begin statewide on Aug. 11.
Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA’s executive director and a member of the committee, was not available for comment by press time. During a phone interview last month, he stressed the importance of safety for student-athletes.
“There has been heightened awareness in regards to player safety over the past few years in regards to concussions and [wrestling] weight certification,” he said. “As we learn more about health and have better research, we can take steps in better protecting the student-athletes. In some cases, it may take developing a new mindset.”
The policy consists of several suggestions, including education, certification and training of coaches, student-athletes, parents and athletic administrators about hydration techniques, environmental and non-environmental risk factors. It also stresses the development of a heat acclimatization timeline and an emergency plan.
The guidelines attempt to balance the need to properly teach safe playing techniques and assimilation into hot weather, according to a press release.
“We haven’t completely examined the [model policy] and come up with our own regulations yet,” said Earl Hawkins, Prince George’s County Public Schools’ athletic director. “We will have our version soon, but I expect to be following the state.”
The model policy suggests several equipment restrictions for fall sports. It also notes the heat acclimatization period is individualized. Days in which an athlete does not practice due to rest, injury, illness or any other reason would not count toward the adjustment period.
In football, the state’s model policy does not permit players to practice in full pads until the sixth day of practice. Only helmets would be allowed during the first two days and helmets and shoulder pads during days three through five.
In field hockey, the state’s model policy suggests that goalies can wear helmets and goalie kickers the first two days before adding a chest protector. Soccer and girls volleyball would have no equipment restrictions.
During the initial five days of practice, only one full practice would be permitted per day with an additional one-hour walk through session (no pads, no equipment) permitted following a mandatory three-hour rest period. Traditional two-a-day practice sessions would not be allowed on consecutive days beginning with the sixth day of practice.
“It is good to protect from the heat, but when we start cutting practice time and cutting preparation time, the overall quality will suffer,” Henry A. Wise football coach DaLawn Parrish said last month.
Added Eleanor Roosevelt girls soccer coach Marty Pfister: “We just have to be more efficient.”