Written by: Maurice Patton, The Tennessean
MURFREESBORO - Another step in trying to protect high school football players from the heat was put in place at Wednesday's Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control meeting.
Players now will have a full week to practice in shoulder pads - and are required to for at least three days - to get them better prepared for handling the hot temperatures in full pads the next week.
That period this year will start July 22, and practice in full pads can start July 29.
Previously, players could not put on shoulder pads until practice in full pads started.
Players who are injured and unable to practice at that time will be required to adhere to the same three-day protocol when they do return.
"This just strengthens what we already have in place and extends the requirement to the individual," said TSSAA assistant executive director Mark Reeves, who explained the procedure to the board prior to the vote.
"It just further protects the athlete."
Reeves said Tennessee's football heat-related deaths have been fewer than those in surrounding states. The state has had a helmets-only practice period during the summer and a heat policy that prohibits practicing under certain conditions.
Maplewood coach Arcentae Broome said the move could be significant for a number of reasons.
"If they're going to allow us to put on helmets and shoulder pads for three days prior to (full pads) ... you can put in a lot," he said. "It gives us three more days to get in some hitting drills we wouldn't be able to get in otherwise. If you're just in shorts, you're basically putting in plays, conditioning and doing walk-throughs. With this, we can actually line up."
New Independence coach Scott Blade said the rule will be only a minor modification of his typical practice plan.
"We practice a lot in helmets and shoulder pads during the season," Blade said. "At that hot time of year, it helps get acclimated to the heat, but we do that a lot anyway."
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said the move had been considered for some time.
"This is a major improvement in what we're currently doing," he said. "It's a major change, but it's a change in the right direction for the safety of the kids."