The following is from a release from the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Football teams in the AHSAA opened practice this week with some new regulations in place concerning live 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.”