It was really hot this summer, no? It was until high school football practice began in Maryland, anyway. And then, as though by some MPSSAA magic, very moderate summer temperatures hit the area just as the lads were hitting the field for three weeks of practice.
In the days of Jerry Calhoun, Charlie Lattimer, Bubbles Thompson, Ed Schwarz et al, moderate temperatures would have been a nightmare for the coaches because the thinking then was football players could not be properly trained for the rigors of the coming season unless the air outside was “hotter than the hinges of hell,” as my sainted mother likes to say.
These days, though, coaches, given more year-round training programs that are in place and what we know about heat and how it can harm people dressed in 15 to 20 pounds of equipment, an occasional scorcher doesn’t hurt things from time to time, but more moderate temperatures allow for more constructive work and growth to take place in the preseason.
So this summer must have been ideal for area football coaches, no? No. This summer was the wrong summer for that, for this summer was The Summer of the Maryland Preseason Practice Heat Acclimatization, the state law aimed at preventing heat related injuries to high school athletes in all sports, with the needed, but poorly implemented policy in Maryland stressing strictly monitored times for practices, the number of practices per day, rest, as well as a reduction in contact and the utilization of full equipment.
In other words, to use a John Wayne expression from “The Cowboys,” Maryland high school football teams spent much of the summer burnin’ daylight.
“We haven’t had a day yet where we practiced and it was above 76 degrees,” Northern head coach Phil Carr said to the Times-News’ Chris Appel. “We’ve been keeping track of them — when we start and when we end. We’ve been starting at 9 a.m. and have been done before it got really hot anyway.
“I don’t think it’s gotten above 80 at any point of the day since football practice started.”
Carr figures the Huskies lost 18 hours of practice time this season, which, he points out, wouldn’t have been a problem last year with such a senior-laden team. The same can be said for Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge, as the Sentinels, like the Huskies, have one returning starter, while the Miners have two.
“We’re trying to evaluate kids without hitting,” said Fort Hill’s Todd Appel, “especially a group of inexperienced kids who don’t know about the varsity level, and the state handcuffs everybody the first week. It’s been hard to evaluate with only one day of hitting before the first scrimmage. Everything you told (the players) would happen did happen, and they’re not used to it. And with that comes missed blocks and being unable to take steps to combat physical play.
“It was definitely a handicap the first week in evaluating kids. We’re still in the evaluation process and we’re a week and three days from our first game. It’s tough.”
At Allegany, Coach Tom Preaskorn reported, “With the limited practice time we’ve had because of the heat restrictions, we’re a little behind, but we’re fortunate to have experienced players to work with.”
Thus, with the first week of the West Virginia schedule in the books and the first week of Maryland’s season five days away, an early indicator is Keyser, Frankfort, Hampshire and Moorefield, all of whom notched big wins on Friday, mean business in West Virginia, which opens summer practice 10 days before Maryland does, while in Maryland, Allegany and Southern return veteran clubs, while Northern, Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge do not.
Depending on your point of view, that’s the beauty or the maddening thing about high school football. The beauty comes in more kids getting their chance when the class ahead of them graduates. The maddening aspect of it, for some coaches and members of rabid fan bases, is our schools here keep getting smaller and smaller, and we’re not talking about the actual buildings.
Sometimes the team with the greatest expectations has the greatest cross to bear. Being told you’re the greatest thing since sweat socks isn’t always the greatest thing to hear.
Sometimes the team that has been told it has no great expectations ends up realizing the greatest accomplishments. These teams are playing with the house’s money, and these are the teams that sometime have the last and the loudest laugh. Or not. But we’ll find out soon enough as the holidays have arrived here in the area — it’s high school football season!
Can you believe it’s high school football season already? Can you believe the wonderfully moderate temperatures we’ve enjoyed this August? And can you believe that while everybody talks about the weather, the state of Maryland and the MPSSAA finally did something about it?
Maybe next, year, by allowing practice to start a week earlier, they can do something benefical about it.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org