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.