SOLON, Iowa - The opening days of spring sports seasons sent plenty of high school athletes to the tracks, tennis courts, baseball and softball fields and weight rooms.
"The landscape has changed, not just in football but kids are bigger, stronger, faster and better prepared physically," said Kevin Miller, head coach at Solon since 2001. "More time in the weight room. That's what has changed over the past 25 years."
Especially in Solon, a program that has enjoyed statewide success, with four state football titles since 2007.
On Wednesday, the Iowa High School Athletic Association passed new guidelines for the pre-season football practices of August, With an eye towards Iowa's 342 football programs and roughly 21,000 students who play high school football, the new rules will go into effect for this summer:
- Only one practice per day. No more of the infamous "two-a-days". Miller said that hasn't been an issue at Solon as they program has only held one practice a day for years.
- A practice is "defined as a period of time in which a student participates in physical activity".
- For that one practice a day, the IHSAA stipulates a maximum of three hours. This includes warm-ups, stretching, strength training and a cooldown.
The IHSAA also declares the first five days of practice as a period where no "full contact" practices are allowed.
- First two days: Helmets, mouth guards and shoulder pads are allowed but no activities requiring protective equipment are allowed. This would allow conditioning.
- Days 3 to 5: Equipment may be worn and used for tackling drills and teaching technique for blocking but no full-contact until Day 6.
- Also, the first two Sundays of the pre-season practice sessions are "days of complete rest".
The IHSAA is citing a need to protect players from the August heat as well as some of the more severe injuries that can occur in football, such as concussions.
The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina found that since 1995, 52 players died, 42 of them in high school. Its study also found that during the last decade, there were 31 heat-stroke deaths, compared to 21 during the previous 10 years.
"I think some of it is getting acclimated to the heat," said Miller. "I think that's in part to having five days just in helmets but addressing some of the specific skills and fundamentals, blocking and tackling and spending time on those important fundamentals."
Some of the Spartans, just months from starting their senior seasons in football, said the Solon coaches encourage them to stay hydrated and aware.
"The coaches are always watching out for us," said junior Danny Whitmore. "They tell us to let them know and they're always letting us get water."
Dalton Ferguson, another senior-to-be at Solon, said the Spartans usually practice in three-hour blocks and the IHSAA regulations will not have a major effect.
"(The coaches) really expect everything from every player," said Ferguson. "Do as best as you can. You can't do that if you've got a muscle cramp or shin splints."