Some high schools have already begun playing football games, but other teams are still entrenched in a time-honored tradition that the NFL and NCAA have either limited or done away with: two-a-day practices. While the pros eliminated two full-contact practices on the same day as part of new rules designed to curb concussions - and colleges have placed restrictions on them since 2003 - The Washington Post reports that two-a-days remain a staple in the high school ranks.
Coaches told reporter James Wagner that two-a-days are conducted partly out of necessity and partly out of tradition. But if that is, indeed, the case, medical experts think high school athletics administrators need to rethink their priorities in the wake of increased concussions and heat-related illnesses and deaths.
"It's inconceivable to me that you can take young scholar athletes at an age that is more vulnerable and have them play more dangerously than at the highest professional level," Robert Cantu, a co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and a leading specialist in sports-related concussions, told The Post.
"You always worry about contact and you try to limit it," countered Jerry Gordon, the head coach at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, Va. "But you have to be able to play football."
The National Athletic Trainers Association recommends acclimating players to two-a-days (and, perhaps more importantly, the heat risks that go with them) in steps over a five-day period, and the Arkansas Activities Association recently approved new requirements for football coaches that limit the number of preseason two-a-days.
Cantu suggests that teams still holding two-a-days limit hitting in practice. He told The Post's Wagner that even teenagers and young adults can display early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by head trauma, from small non-concussive hits to full-blown concussions. When hitting is needed, Cantu said proper technique must be stressed. Coaches also should consider using dummies to prevent full-force hits between colliding bodies, and during walk-throughs in which plays are rehearsed, players should not wear helmets, he said, thereby discouraging hits.