The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA), which governs prep athletics in the state, issued a memo last week, that will allow high school football programs to start practice four days earlier than normal. Gridiron squads across the state traditionally kick off practice on a Thursday in early-to-mid August. For 2012, that targeted date was Aug. 9 before the release of the NIAA memo. Now the first official start date is Saturday, Aug. 4.
So why the relatively late change to the NIAA’s calendar?
The NIAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee asked the organization to allow for the earlier start date for football in an effort to better condition players in hopes of preventing heat stroke and other heat-related illness. The Committee’s recommendation was approved at the NIAA’s quarterly meeting almost two weeks ago.
“It’s been proven nationally that football is different from other sports in preparing for a season. Football players have a ton of gear they wear and statistical analysis shows football players are more susceptible to heat illness,” NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson said. “The NIAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommended to (Executive Director) Mr. Bonine that football players should be better prepared and acclimated to the heat. The Committee felt our current rule, three days of non-contact, was not quite enough time to get ready for full gear.”
Official guidelines now allow for practice, with no gear, to start on Aug. 4. Athletes can wear helmets starting Aug. 9 and athletes can don full pads, starting Aug. 13.
“I think it’s a great move by the state,” said Ernie Howren, coach of defending Northern 4A champion Reed. “It gives us the opportunity to slowly work these kids into non-padded practice and then padded practices.”
The earlier start date for practice is only for football. All other fall season prep sports — soccer, volleyball, tennis, girls golf — must still wait until Aug. 13 to kick off their workouts.
While the earlier start date is effective for the fast-approaching 2012 fall campaign, it will have relatively little effect on how Sparks-area high schools prepare for the new season. In fact, Howren has chosen not to utilize the extra four days of workouts and will still start officials drills on Thursday, Aug. 9. That’s a luxury he has because Reed has been running optional offseason workouts since late May.
“We’re not going to re-work our calendar. We set that up for our kids and parents in January and to change it at this point would be unfair,” Howren said. “We’ll still start on Thursday the ninth. I think our conditioning program through the summer gets us in great condition. The kids will be ready to go but this does make it easier in the future.”
At Spanish Springs, seventh-year Cougars coach Scott Hare had similar sentiments. Due to the late notice of the change, Spanish Springs will hold optional workouts Aug. 6-7-8, before starting mandatory practices on Aug. 9.
“We’re going to start on that Monday with three days of optional practice,” Hare said. “We already dictate so many vacation plans for parents, I’m not going to ask them to come back a week early or for kids that work to get out of their jobs.
“Just looking at what we are allowed to do, doesn’t this pretty much mean the extra days are just like summer practice,” Hare quipped, alluding to non-padded summer workouts. “We are pretty much already doing six weeks of heat acclimation. I think right now we’re above the curve in terms of kids being ready for the heat when they put the gear on.”
At Reed and Spanish Springs, summer drills begin in late May and end in late July, giving athletes a week or two of free time before official workouts begin. At Sparks, summer workouts begin later and run nearly up to the start of August practice.
“We’re already going up to Aug. 2 with our summer conditioning class so this new rule gives us four more days of that,” veteran Railroaders coach Rob Kittrell said. “The kids will certainly be tired of doing that stuff. I’m not sure how much more we’ll get out of those extra four days. We feel we get in real good shape by the end of our conditioning class.”
Kittrell said the NIAA’s policy change may be a bigger help to programs that do less in the summer.
“For programs that don’t do a lot in the summer, this will be more beneficial to them,” he said. “This makes sense and it’s great that the change has been made, but across Washoe County, we’re already doing our summer programs so the rule change doesn’t make a big difference.”