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Football practice limit is a good call

A Times Editorial
Published August 3, 2006


Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino just threw cold water on potentially heat-exhausted athletes on the county's middle and high school football fields.

It's a smart audible on her part.

Fiorentino followed a recommendation from the Florida High School Athletic Association and banned two-a-day preseason football practices because of heat concerns. The forecast called for daytime high temperatures to reach 94 degrees Wednesday afternoon.

The reduced schedule (Pasco's high school teams will lose up to six practice sessions) brought grumbling from some coaches about inequitable treatment compared to teams from other counties. The health of student-athletes is the district's priority, not won-loss records come September. Pinellas and Hernando counties also followed the state recommendation while Hillsborough and Citrus county high schools did not.

The health concerns are genuine. On July 24, two of 60 players at Hudson High School showed symptoms of heat exhaustion during conditioning drills and were transported to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. Hudson High coach Mark Nash told Times staff writer Steve Lee the players' fatigue was a reflection of their own lack of preparation, rather than an overzealous staff working the youngsters too hard. Still, three other players also showed symptoms but did not require hospitalization.

In Hillsborough, 11-year-old Jamell Johnson died July 21 from heat stroke a week after being transported to the hospital from practice with his Tampa Bay Youth Football League team. On July 17, 12-year-old Bobby Stephens Jr. died during the first day of practice for another team in the same youth league.

Pasco's student-athletes still will get plenty of work. The game schedule begins Aug. 25, leaving time for 18 preseason practices and an Aug. 18 scrimmage. The players also had access to summer weight-training and conditioning sessions.

The FHSAA recommended practice schedule calls for a single session for the first seven days of the preseason, then two-a-day practices on alternating days. Pasco schools begin classes Tuesday, leaving no time for the two-a-day practices. Sessions can last up to three hours, but intense exercise is to be limited to 90 minutes with time also allowed for stretching, warm ups, cool downs.

High school football is a frequent point of pride among local schools and their surrounding communities. But, at times, there is misplaced importance assigned to football and other sporting event outcomes. Physical preparations on the scholastic level shouldn't be detrimental to children's well being. Kudos to Fiorentino for the right play call.

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[Last modified August 3, 2006, 07:12:57]


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