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Published: Thursday, 8/21/2003

Early football cramps everyone's style

High school football starts tomorrow night. That's Friday, Aug. 22.

Maybe you didn't catch that, so I'll speak up.

AUGUST 22!!!!

OK, so I'm getting ancient.

I compare everything to the good old days, when kids were allowed to have summers and two-a-day practices started on Aug. 15 and coaches had three weeks to prepare their teams because the first game wasn't until after Labor Day.

You know, back when athletes actually set foot inside a classroom BEFORE setting foot inside the end zone.

Ah, but that was also pre-playoffs.

And long before the Ohio High School Athletic Association figured it was important that there be five rounds of playoff games so that 192 schools out of about 710 in the state could get there. That's one out of every 3.7 teams.

So they schedule the state championship games for the weekend after Thanksgiving, count back four weeks from that date for the previous four playoff rounds, count back 10 weeks from there for the regular season and that brings us to, voila, AUGUST 22!!!!

Actually, as St. Francis coach Dick Cromwell pointed out, we're in the third year of a cycle that finds teams playing two games before Labor Day.

“It's just the way the calendar fell this year,” he said. “It looks awful early.”

It also looks that way because it is. In fact, it's the earliest start in the history of Ohio prep football and, under current guidelines, the earliest start possible.

The OHSAA, in addition to counting back from championship weekend, also pays attention to Labor Day, which this year is on Sept. 1. Never, they say, will there be more than two games played before Labor Day. Never, we say, until they add another division to send another 32 teams to the postseason.

But this isn't about the playoffs. It's about the headaches the playoffs create months before they start. You won't find many coaches who complain about the expanded playoff field, but there are plenty who don't like the early, hurry-up start.

For almost all schools, two-a-days began on Aug. 4. Hitting could commence on Aug. 7. The first scrimmage date was Aug. 12; the second was Aug. 15-16.

“We hit on the 7th and 8th, then came the weekend, then we practiced on the 11th, which wasn't real heavy hitting because we scrimmaged the next day,” said Maumee's John Boles, who is beginning his 19th season as a head coach.

“So yeah, that's kind of scary, just three days of contact before the first scrimmage. I'd like to have more days of contact before that. Our kids do an extensive conditioning program and they're in great shape coming into two-a-days, so I wonder if we need those three acclimation [non-hitting] days at the start of two-a-days.”

Are players being put in greater danger of injury by the minimal number of contact days and less time to practice and learn proper execution?

“I hope not,” Boles answered. “I hope we have them ready through conditioning.”

Notice he said hope.

Twice.

That conditioning Boles spoke of takes place during 10 camp days during June and July, when coaches are allowed contact with players for workouts and teaching, without hitting, of course.

“Every sport is allowed 10 days, so you're sort of competing for the same kids,” Cromwell said. “And you're not allowed to make them mandatory. So you've got kids playing basketball and baseball and going on family vacations, and those are our 10 days.

“I'm in favor of two scrimmages, but I'm not so sure it's good after just a few days of hitting. Ah, the whole thing is just too dang early. We're not even in school and we're playing games.

“It precipitated some schools to start early.”

One of them was City League rival St. John's, which began classes on Aug. 13 - AUGUST 13!!!! - and opened two-a-day football practices on the first day of the month.

“It seems like sort of a regular routine because we started everything so early,” said coach Doug Pearson.

“But man, it comes in a hurry. Once the 4th of July comes, it's like summer is over for the kids.”

Three days of hitting, then scrimmage. Two or three more days of hitting, scrimmage again. A few more days of practice and, suddenly, it's Aug. 22 - as in AUGUST 22!!!!

All this so that 12 teams out of the 192 that make the playoffs out of the 710 that play football can play title games on Nov. 28-29 instead of a week later.

After all, a week later it might be a few degrees colder and a few days closer to basketball season, which starts earlier so that spring sports can start earlier so that school ends earlier so that football can start earlier ...

The Catch-22 of prep sports in Ohio. Catch-22 on Aug. 22.

Play ball!



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