GHSA bans three-a-days, sets limits on football practices to combat heat risks

Moved by the news that Georgia leads the nation in heat-related deaths of among football players over the past 15 years, the Georgia High School Association made sweeping changes Monday to make football practices safer.

It’s believed to be the first time in state history that the GHSA has set limits on practice time.

Beginning this summer:

- Each player must participate in five days of practices in only helmets, t-shirts and shorts before going to pads in August. These practices without pads, which may begin no sooner than July 25, are limited to two hours.

- Practice in pads, which may begin Aug. 1, are limited to three hours.

- Three-a-day preseason practices are banned, and two-a-day practices cannot take place on consecutive days or exceed a total of five hours in a single day.

- All schools must use wet-bulb temperatures, and not heat index, to determine when excessive heat and humidity call for limiting or canceling practices.

Schools violating the new regulations face fines of up to $1,000.

“We want to make sure that all the kids are out in the sun with moderate levels of practices without the heavy equipment so they get used to outdoors,’’ GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said. “Research has shown there are times when players are most vulnerable.’’

The new rules come in the wake of a three-year study commissioned by the GHSA and completed by University of Georgia. It found that heat-related deaths among football players tripled nationwide between 1994 and 2009 and that Georgia suffered more deaths at all levels of the sport (not just high school) than any other state.

In August, two Georgia high school players died on the same day. Fitzgerald High lineman D.J. Searcy died at a camp in Florida, although controversy remains over the role that heat played. Forest Jones, a lineman at Locust Grove High, had been hospitalized since the previous week after collapsing at a voluntary workout.

‘’A lot of people may think this was a direct reaction to [those deaths], but we were into the final year of this research then,’’ Swearngin said. “We felt like were trying to make decisions [in the past] when we didn’t have the data. When you start making rules without a factual basis for those rules, it gives a false sense of security. We wanted to get some facts first.’’

The UGA study, which tracked practices at 25 Georgia schools for three years, found that most of the players who died got sick on days when practice was held in the morning and ended by noon. Most deaths happened in August and during preseason practices during which two-a-days and longer practices were common.

‘’There’s no single cause of kids having these problems,’’ Swearngin said. “We’re trying to minimize the risk so that when problems occur, we can respond at a less serious level and not have a catastrophic event.’’

Swearngin said Georgia researchers indicated that perhaps only two other states, Arkansas and Texas, had rules that limited high school football practice times over heat concerns.

98 comments Add your comment

A HS coach

March 19th, 2012
8:02 pm

As a HS coach, I applaud the effort & changes that the GHSA made. We’ll never miss those extra hrs of practice, but those boys & others before them will always be missed. Got to have perspective. Good job, GHSA.


March 19th, 2012
8:48 pm

Most sports fans in Georgia know that the Swearngin quoted three times is Ralph Swearngin, Executive Director of the GHSA, though that was never mentioned in the article.
Good move by the GHSA. Now maybe consider starting the season later?

A person SMART enough to know......

March 19th, 2012
8:51 pm

Let the players from each team play each other in Madden Football and that way they never have to break a sweat. LOL

A father

March 19th, 2012
8:55 pm

Kudos.It’s about time.

A father

March 19th, 2012
8:59 pm

a persom smart enough to know…..that’s about the dumbest statement I have ever read. please do not post anything else.


March 19th, 2012
9:06 pm

Good move on the part of the GHSA. There’s no reason why high school kids and coaches put in more hours than colleges and pros. It’s been getting out of hand for years.


March 19th, 2012
9:22 pm

Great rule and good move on the GHSA part – ENFORCE THIS RULE!!!!!!!

Putting it on paper is great, get off the can and make sure it is enforced – rather than hitting them with the 1000 buck fine – close down their practices for a week – that will get their attention.

This is one time when you have to show the schools – even the big boys – that you mean business – and don’t cross the line in the sand. Time to become a better enforcement agency and stop looking the other way on everything.


March 19th, 2012
9:32 pm

@ tman

You might want to go back and read the article. Swearngin and his title are listed in the article…mid- article.


March 19th, 2012
10:07 pm

It’s about time they reigned in these win any cost coachs. It’s a disgrace this practice has been allowed to go on this long.

Just Be Fair

March 19th, 2012
10:26 pm

It is about time. Also put an end to Spring Practice. It is not fair for the other sports, but then again most football coaches could care less about other sports.

X Coach

March 19th, 2012
10:30 pm

Finally GHSA does something right…Thanks Dr. Swearngin.

Wing Rt 28 Go

March 19th, 2012
10:43 pm

It’s gettin hot in here. Let me take off my clothes!

Common sense is rare.

March 19th, 2012
11:19 pm

Yeah boy! let’s start practice in the dead middle of the summer and avoid the heat…idiots! Just wait until August 15 to start practice and don’t start pads until a week later.

Just a fan

March 19th, 2012
11:30 pm

No one wants a kid to have medical issues..who could defend that….but all the comments about “the big programs” isn’t warranted…check it out…the big programs have the resources so this doesn’t happen…it’s the wanna be’s where the issue seem to crop up. You don’t hear of the Brookwoods or Lowdnes where this is an issue…..lady, get your facts straight.

A person SMART enough to know......

March 20th, 2012
1:23 am

Send all the players to the south Ga farms to pick the crops for most of the summer and they will be ready for the heat and practices in August. Most will likely sit in the AC all summer and avoid hard work to prepare their bodies for practices.

gunga din

March 20th, 2012
3:20 am

great move by the GHSA, however, many of the schools will try to get around this by having those “voluntary” conditioning programs.


March 20th, 2012
4:57 am

To just be fair – your comment is dumb. Other sports like baseball, basketball, fastpitch softball, play probably at least 30 -40 games out of their season. AAU and travel teams occupy unbelievable amounts of kids time.


March 20th, 2012
5:54 am

The GHSA is famous for their “rules” and they will also decide who can break them. Anyone dare call them on it and the response is “that information is confidential” – Swearingin is a joke and so is the GHSA. He also says “recruiting” is illegal and on the 2nd page of the AJC sports page the QB is quoted as saying”my coach called me when he moved and asked me to come to the new school”- ask Ralph about that and sure his response is “that is confidential”.

Lets hope that they can enforce one of their rules and keep our boys safe. The heat is no joke. The practices should be at night when HS football is played – I can’t think of a HS game that was played between 10am and 5 pm……

Cats hav fleas 2

March 20th, 2012
6:38 am

The GHSA doesn’t enforce the heat rules now so why make them tougher? When violations are brought to their attention they still do nothing. This is nothing but a stunt.

Doug the Jacket

March 20th, 2012
7:25 am

Former South Ga Football player

March 20th, 2012
7:25 am

Good ruling GHSA, now follow it up with enforcement. Also parents could help out their kids by getting them conditioned before the practices start in the summer. My Dad had my brothers and I outside running and working on the farm in South Ga. My brothers and I were the best prepared for the season. All the city boys were sick and vomiting.

Marine Jacket

March 20th, 2012
7:26 am

I remember doing 2-a-days not 3. Who in their right mind would do 3 practices in one day in July/ August. That would require one to be midday.

Go Jackets

Bob in Byron

March 20th, 2012
7:30 am

sportsfan2 what article are you talking about?
I’m reading on line and would like to read it.

Come on Man

March 20th, 2012
7:42 am

I’m glad the old way of thinking is finally going out the door. We were not allowed to even take our helments off at practice much less get water. Even the game has changed at the high school level where skill is king so teams should be working on routes and other precision drills instead of beating each other up for the sake of beating each other up.

Sports Guy

March 20th, 2012
7:54 am

At least the GHSA was proactive. The Georgia state legislature should take a lesson. According to studies (Univ.of Georgia) the nation averages 3 HS football deaths per year. The Am.J of Sports Med reports over 300,000 sports related concussions per year. I realize that death vs concussion does not compare, however the point is the protection of kids. There are 31 states with concussion laws and Georgia is not one of them. GHSA did something. The legislature played politics with HB 673.


March 20th, 2012
8:12 am

My boys went to a 4 day long pre-season camp every year at the end of July, and they had 3-a-days. A 2 hour practice at 7:30 am, a 2 hour practice at noon and a 3 hour practice at 5pm.


March 20th, 2012
8:25 am

ENFORCEMENT….Several years ago 3 or 4 SWD was in the paper in full equipment days before it was allowed. I am talking AJC front page Sports( it was no file photo) and yet nothing was reported of any action by Ralph. But I am sure a lot of others do the same. There is no limit on these passing camps that some teams go to every week in the summer. Football is year round for the skilled players so you have to be extra careful with the linemen. Now is Cairo football going to play with players that do robbories again.?
Will they let them finish the playoffs before seving their sentences? Convicted felons should not play high school football.

Taylor Wooten

March 20th, 2012
8:26 am

What good are more rules? Everyone knows the GHSA doesnt enforce its own rules. All those “Transfer” rules are laughed at!


March 20th, 2012
8:28 am


March 20th, 2012
8:32 am

Bob- the article is in this past Sunday’s sport section – page 2 – a whole page devoted to “transfers” . there is nothing online about it (YET)!


March 20th, 2012
8:37 am

I suppose this also means if you puke you no longer have to roll in it? Most football coaches are crazy. The guy in Friday night lights was a myth. I naver saw him push a player to exhaustion or yell at a 5 year old who did not want to play anymore because of the heat. What about the practice in midget football of grabbing the runners arm and slinging him to the ground? Its been part of the intimidation game and results in cincussion and arm injuries but it sure is effective.


March 20th, 2012
8:41 am

just be fair… if you know as little about other high school sports playing and practicing “out of season” as you seem to then please keep your uneducated comments to yourself.


March 20th, 2012
8:43 am

Played HS football back in the seventies. Like someone else mentioned we couldn’t take off our helmets or drink
water.When we did get something to drink it was a dipper of Cramer’s Take five,we called green slime. Loaded with salt.Back then we worked and stayed outside all summer, not layed up playing video games in AC. Conditioning is important,however it needs to be started way in advance of
actually practicing football.


March 20th, 2012
8:44 am

3 a day practices? When did that come about, and why didn’t the players revolt?


March 20th, 2012
8:52 am

Why does GA always have to be the worst in the nation in an issue before something sensible gets done? It’s a crime that something was not done before all those kids died.


March 20th, 2012
9:02 am

This is nothing more than posturing by the GHSA. They make all sorts of rules that they can use when they want, but where is the enforcement. Recruiting rules look good, but are not enforced. Heat rules are in place, not enforced. Practice rules, not enforced. Tobacco, not enforced. The only thing that is consistently enforced is the practice of fining schools, coaches and players when ejected from competition,or violations of eligibility that are self reported. Either the GHSA is understaffed and unable to police the members, or they pick and choose. There is no method of appeals for decisions, unless you count the kangaroo court they hold for reclassification, Not a fan of bigger government, but the GHSA can do whatever it wants without having any accountability. Nothing is going to change unless the member schools stand up like the class A schools did regarding the private school issue, or the GHSA big money sponsors pull out, and that’s not going to happen. And you can’t put all the blame on the coaches for violating the rules. High School Football in Georgia is a business. Parents expect you to win now, and consistently and find scholarships for Johnny. As long as you’re doing that, they aren’t going to complain that teams aren’t playing by the rules. But have a losing season and it’s adios, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


March 20th, 2012
9:04 am

1994-2009. I wonder how many more kids play hs football today than before 1994? With GA having the growth in population since 1994 that in itself may be a reason. Research previously to 1994 back to the 50’s should be done. Basically in the 50’s amd 60’s practice did not begin until August or even later because of the agricultural crops that needed tending before the season. Games were never scheduled until after Labor Day. I do not know about the rules before 1969 with the GIA organization but I would guess they never scheduled their games before Labor Day either. Good to be cautious but sometimes making rules and not having the people to enforce them brings about too much sweeping things under the rug. Someones early statement about keeping the kids from practice for a week if the rule is broken instead of the fine…is punishing the ones we want to protect…Get rid of the cheating coach if you really mean to improve the safety of the kids. Also…I would like to know the percentage of linemen that had the heat related issues or deaths before making drastic changes… did the research distinguish between linemen and skilled persons? May be a Knee Jerk reaction or as one said a “Stunt” by GHSA.

One thing that really is wrong is these little 6-12 league players in the rec leagues practicing in the hot sun in the middle of the day in July….That issue needs to be cosidered….Practicing at night would just allow some kids the opportunity to get in trouble during the day.

Long Time Cobb Resident & Cobb Graduate

March 20th, 2012
9:07 am

Good move on the limitations. Another good move would be to start school LATER…. like after Labor Day. At least the temps would be a little lower….


March 20th, 2012
9:22 am

It goes without mentioning that Georgia is a state like Alabama where high school football is King. The coaches who must win at these programs where winning is the ALL will find a way. As for their conscious, well it all gets tucked up under the folder name, it is football, and it is just hard. The problem was and is time, and the coaches’ thinking that there just is not enough time to get a team ready. Especially where the kids did not do the summer workouts. As for the game, well the GHSA did a nice job. The fine of $1,000 is so petty and weak. The unsaviory will pay the fine once, and not worry as someone in town will help make that donation back to the school. They will figure out how to beat the system.

In college football a pratcice is deemed a practice provided there is a football being used on the field. Some schools shave hairs, and leave the football off of the field for that day’s third practice. I hope the GHSA’s rules are clearly written as to take all loop holes off the table. Also a way to escape the system has been to bring a group or position out to the field when the whole team is not assembled. This is not considered a practice either. So watch it GHSA as wothout seeing the new legislation one may not know all the particulars on this subject’s engagements.

As for on the field, what about in a gym in air conditioning, is that considered a practice? So I ask because these coaches are clever, as well devious. They will find a way. So Frank how far did you go?

As for what kids think. Wow did we really ever think to ask them? Yes they would like to win, but not like they used to. Very few are inclined like back in the 60s – 90s. The times have changed so much that kids are not ready to play like they once we


March 20th, 2012
9:29 am

I agree with those above who say this is a good move on the part of GHSA. The sad thing is that such a rule had to be placed in the first place because of the actions of a few overzealous coaches. Other than the kids, who benefits the most from this rule – high school principals. “Big brother” is never more popular than when their dictates take the tough moves off their hands.


March 20th, 2012
9:30 am

Mike T couldn’t have have said it better…..

Problem is that these kids needs to get outside before August. It is what you do June til then that gets you ready. That is why we are seeing these issues.

Wow old school is just....old

March 20th, 2012
9:38 am

A Person Smart Enough to Know….You know Football really is a different sport than when you played it. Sure the rules are the same (most of them) but the players are bigger, faster and stronger now! Not being out “workin the crops” isn’t that only reason this is happening. The practices are more complicated, more in depth and harder these days. That I can assure you of. Don’t get me wrong I know playing Ironman Football way back when was though and I don’t doubt that being inside during the summer and then going out in 100% heat doesn’t play a small factor. But this is the modern world we live in and with technology playing a bigger role in our kids lives they are going to be inside more (trust me if you had Madden when you were growing up would have played it to).


March 20th, 2012
9:46 am

I would really like to see them push the start of the season back to get the kids out of the summer heat. Also, caution and consideration would go a long way to prevent heat related injuries and unfortunate deaths for the little guys in youth football. They practice in the same heat.


March 20th, 2012
9:50 am

In the early 1960’s, we had three practices a day at football camp. Our coach had played for Wally Butts as did many high school coaches in Georgia in the 50’s and 60’s. We were not allowed water, as that would be a sign of weakness, nor could we remove our helmets. These practices were harder and more extreme than either Airborne School and Army Ranger School, which I attended in 1969. Amazingly, nobody died. I am not sure why. None of use had ever “worked the crops.” Maybe we were accustomed to growing up without air conditioning. Anyway, the new rules are good, and coaches who violate them should be held accountable.

Here we go again

March 20th, 2012
9:53 am

These kids nowadays are such wimps. Back in the 70’s or the 80’s you never heard of anything like this.


March 20th, 2012
10:03 am

Hey “Here we go again” – back in the 70’s or 80’s you didn’t have the lousy diets, a/c everywhere, and tv’s, computer-games, and cellphones that now are the entertainment of the day 24-7 for the high schooler. While I can’t agree with you more that compared to “our day” these kids are wimps, ‘it is what it is”. And with the lifestyle for our grandkids what they are today, 3 a-days and all that goes with the Vince Lombardi approach are basically life-threatening situations. Sad ….. you bet! But life goes on.

Jeff Stockwell

March 20th, 2012
10:03 am

Practice early and/or late. Swimmers are always up really early.


March 20th, 2012
10:07 am

It’s funny to see comments made about devious, insane coaches who are only concerned with winning. Yet, these same people would probably be running a high school coach out if he consistently finished 2-8 or 3-7. . . Coaches are one of the few (if only?) school employees who get hired and fired due to their abilities and performance. Think about that for a second. . . Do some of them go to far? I’m sure they do. . . why do they do it? Some might be ego-maniacs. . .other might just be trying to keep up with the teams they’re supposed to beat, you know, what they’re paid and expected to do. .

And to whomever said congrats to Swearngin for whatever . . . . first, actually enforce a rule before getting too excited about seeing in put in place. The GHSA is totally out of touch with regular, smaller high school teams that aren’t the consistent powerhouses and routinely tries to screw over the smaller guys. Case in point this year with the private school argument. . . old Ralph and the boys weren’t going to do anything (too much money involved) before those schools said they would form a new association. . . .I wish they would have.


March 20th, 2012
10:08 am

Thanks for correcting me KINGDAWG. I swear I read that article 5 times and never saw any mention of him being Executive Director! Senior moment, I guess!

Free Shrugs

March 20th, 2012
10:08 am

why did it take teenagers dying before GHSA made these sweeping changes? i’m with everyone else asking honestly if the association will actually enforce these now. and a fine of $1000? is that harsh enough of a punishment to keep these guys from dying/passing out/getting ill?