Survey: Michigan among many to limit contact in high school football practices
By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR — Pioneer High School coach Bill Bellers stood before his team in an overflowing huddle, reading the safety warning on a white sticker affixed to a purple football helmet.
Bellers asked his players if they understood the risks and still wanted to be a part of the season’s first full-contact practice on a field that sits across the street from Michigan Stadium.
“Yes, coach,” the players replied matter-of-factly.
Bellers had a follow-up question.
“Does everybody still want to play football?” he asked.
The fired-up players left no doubt.
“Yes, coach!” they shouted.
What took place over the next two-plus hours probably didn’t look much like your father’s football practice.
At another high school in nearby Ypsilanti, players often pop pads and rarely go to the ground.
“Beating them into the ground and running until you vomit and the old sort of ‘you’re tough’ stuff — that’s gone from the game,” said Chris Westfall, the athletic director and football coach at Lincoln High School.
Michigan, among other states, has implemented rules to drastically reduce the amount of time high school football practices include full-speed collisions with at least one player going to the ground.
An Associated Press survey of high school athletic associations in every state and the District of Columbia found while most limit full contact, not all are tackling the topic in the same way.
Nearly 40 states have rules and regulations regarding the amount of time, or the number of days, a team can have full-contact practices, while more than 10 states don’t set limits before the games begin.
During the regular season, 43 states have set rules on the total time, or number of days, players can hit each other at full speed and go to the ground. Eight states, meanwhile, have chosen to let coaches decide how much their players collide in game-like conditions without a predetermined winner or loser during the regular season.
Earlier this month, USA Football unveiled the game’s first long-term development program in the hopes of growing the game by making it safer and catching up to other sports around the world in terms of improving skills. The sport’s governing body provides resources for coaches, including levels of contact that start with going against air to the highest intensity of live action.