The fall sports season is here.
Practice for Nevada high school football players begins Saturday after the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association approved a four-day grace period for heat acclimation in late June.
For football players statewide, the new rule by the NIAA signals a change in player safety. Because of extreme heat in Nevada, especially Las Vegas, a four-day extension was granted to give players more time to acclimate to the heat.
Every year numerous athletes throughout the country die or suffer from heat-related illnesses. Heat, plus the growing concern over concussions, has enhanced safety protocols from the National Football League down to youth football.
South Tahoe football coach Kevin Hennessee, who coached in the desert in Southern California before coming to Tahoe, sees the new grace period as looking "good on paper," and doesn't think the intent of the period will be met by teams in Nevada.
"As someone who coached in the desert where it was 105 (degrees), kids were already acclimated to it," he said. "I think coaches are just going to use that time to practice, I don't think they're going to use it to get acclimated.
"I don't believe it's going to be used for the purposes of the intent it's given." he added.
Fallon football coach Brooke Hill said it's a growing trend to protect athletes from the temperatures.
"I see a trend with all the concussions and heat with football, and other sports, too, is that you'll start to see this kind of stuff happening," he added. "I wouldn't be surprised to see in the next few years to see double-day practices eliminated."
The acclimation movement, Hill said, starts at the top with the NFL and has made its way through the collegiate, high school and youth ranks. One condition of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement signed last year was to eliminate two contact practices per day and have a limited amount full contact practices per season.
College teams also have reduced contact and the number of practices, Hill said. In addition, spring practices at the college level have spread from a condensed two-week period to about four weeks at numerous schools.
Since those issues have splashed across headlines throughout the country, high school sports associations have taken notice and inserted more aggressive preventative measures.
"You start to see the trickle-down from the NFL," Hill said, "because there are some legitimate concerns out there. We just have to be smarter about how we get them (athletes) ready."
Hennessee said there is definitely a need to carefully watch players and keep them hydrated during football practice and games, but he doesn't see NIAA's plan as being the answer.
"The people that are in the heat, have already done that. What's four extra days going to be in someplace they've lived all their life," he said. "If you were going to acclimate someone to pad heat, that's something else."
The NIAA, along with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, passed the heat acclimatization legislation during its summer meeting and posted the guidelines on its website.
In the past, players would don pads on the first day of practice and engage in two practices per day. The NIAA regulation prohibits two-a-day practices and players wearing pads and helmets during the heat acclimatization period.
According to the NIAA, practice days one through four are reserved for heat acclimatization. Days five through 14, though, teams can begin two-a-day practices but "should be separated by at least three continuous hours in a cool environment."
In addition, the fifth and sixth days of practice are limited to helmets only. On the eighth day, full-contact sports may engage in "100 percent live contact drills with all protective equipment being worn," according to the NIAA. Hennessee said that trying to acclimate athletes in just helmets and shorts, may not be the best way to prepare them for heat.
"Make your first three days with no pads, then make your next three days with pads ... before two-a-days," he recommended. "There's a huge difference between pads, and helmets and shorts."
Both coaches said that they're players are out in the heat prior to the start of the season performing various workouts. Whittell head coach David Housel said his team has been working out all summer as well.
"My guys have been coming in two days a week all summer," Housel said.
"We've been doing stuff all summer, outside, so in terms of acclimating, they're acclimated," Hennessee said. "And I don't know a school that hasn't been doing stuff all summer for four or five weeks."
Hydration is also a key, Hill said. In the past, water was withheld from athletes for poor practice efforts, but now hydration is a must. Hill said he and his staff provide several water breaks during practice and keep the athletes well hydrated.
In addition, the NIAA "strongly recommends" an athletic trainer be on site before, during and after all practices to combat the risk of heat illnesses.
"One of the things that you need to do is make sure that those kids that are coming out have a time to adjust to the heat," Hill said.
South Tahoe will not start practice four days earlier, as the grace period was announced after the team had already set their summer schedule. Practice for STHS will start Aug. 9.
- Joe Proudman contributed to this story.