As thousands of high school student-athletes begin fall practice Wednesday throughout Maryland, they should consider themselves lucky. The 2012 law that required school systems to adopt heat acclimatization guidelines for preseason activities has, for all intents and purposes, eliminated traditional two-a-day practices.
Aside from my jealousy factor, the rule changes to limit contact and time spent in the heat, and evolving attitudes and knowledge about concussions and overall athlete safety have altered sports at all levels. Starting this year, Montgomery County Public Schools — for the first time — will have an athletic trainer at all 25 high schools.
When I was playing a high school football 11 years ago, one of my friends complained of mild headaches during an August practice. We wondered why because he wasn't a starter and we never saw him get hit hard in practice.
So, we, as teammates and a few coaches, gave him a hard time about being “soft” and told “him to suck it up.” We figured he was just tired or a little dehydrated. It was the culture — even at the high school level — of the game then. But his headaches persisted and he eventually went to the doctor, where was diagnosed with a concussion and was required to sit out of practice for a few weeks. He seemed fine, however, and even he felt like he should be back out on the field.
My how times have changed.
Now, with all of the emphasis on concussions — whether brought about for actual player safety reasons or solely financially motivated by the National Football League — we probably wouldn't have pressured our friend. I'm sure, with an athletic trainer on campus, he would've been properly diagnosed much earlier.
Times have changed in the newspaper industry as well. At The Gazette, as you may have seen, we are striving to be more hyper-local than ever. So in our five county editions (Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Rockville and Silver Spring) expect to see a focus on area-specific stories.
In addition to our weekly Wednesday print editions this fall, Jennifer Beekman (@jen_beekman; girls soccer, cross country), Ted Black (@tblackspts; girls volleyball, golf, tennis) Eric Goldwein (@ericgazette; boys soccer, field hockey) and Prince Grimes (@dmvprince; football) will provide readers with day-to-day coverage online at Gazette.net. Sports editor Ken Sain (@gazsptsed), a strong stable of freelancers and I (@kzakour) will all help out as needed.
Beginning next week we will begin previewing all of the Montgomery County public and private high school programs. Cross country, field hockey, golf and tennis are scheduled for Aug. 20 with boys and girls soccer and girls volleyball set for Aug. 27. Finally, our football preview section, complete with individual team capsules, will run on Sept. 3.
The Gazette's sports department is on Twitter. Follow us @Mont_Sports and @PG_Sports. Use hashtag #mdprep this fall to stay connected for scores involving Montgomery and Prince George's counties' teams.