Hell Week figures to be less hellish this year.
In the past, Sterling High School opened football practice with Hell Week. Many other area schools had their own versions.
Sterling’s week involved three practices a day: 2 1/2 hours in the morning, an hour mid-day and 2 hours at night.
With the new Illinois High School Association (IHSA) preseason acclimatization practice period policy – Policy 13 – that’s not possible. The changes are aimed at lessening the risks of heat and injuries.
For the first five practices, teams will be limited to 3 hours of practice, including a 1-hour walkthrough without a football. Warm-up, stretching, cool-down, walkthrough, conditioning and weight-room activities are included as part of practice time.
“It’s dramatically different than last year,” said second-year Sterling head coach Jon Schlemmer. “There’s no Hell Week anymore. We have 8 hours less in the first 6 days. It makes me be more organized. You can’t have a wasted 10-minute segment.”
The new practice policy is modeled after the NCAA’s guidelines.
“It’s all for the safety of the kids. Who’s going to complain about that?” said Newman head coach Mike Papoccia, who is entering his 34th season. “I guess they think the coaches are not smart enough to not put kids in harm’s way.”
“But, I’m not going to argue with the IHSA about the medical part. And, it might give the coaches more time to play golf between practices.”
Dixon head coach Dave Smith, who is entering his third season, saw the writing on the wall but was not expecting the policy to be put into action so soon. The policy was proposed April 17 and approved May 8.
“I thought this would happen next year,” Smith said. “But, I’m not complaining. It’s the right thing to do. Safety is No. 1.”
The policy maps out how many hours teams can practice each day from Aug. 14-27, the first 14 days practice is allowed, Sundays withstanding. The policy will seemingly hurt some schools more than others when it comes to practice time allowed, depending on when they start school.
When school starts, it is much more difficult to have two- or three-a-days, and to have 5 hours of practice.
The policy also shows what equipment is allowed during each practice. Only helmets are allowed the first 2 days of practice; helmets and shoulder pads, practices 3-5; and finally full pads beginning with practice No. 6.
The by-laws also specify that each player must participate in practice for at least 90 minutes per day for 12 days prior to playing in a game.
Rock Falls’ first-year head coach Scott Berge is not a fan of the IHSA serving as big brother.
“I think it should be up to the schools and the coaches,” Berge said. “I understand what they’re doing, but that should come from the administration, rather than full blanket coverage. It makes it so hard. We’re kind of being handcuffed.”
For many programs, Policy 13 forces more emphasis on preseason preparation and the 25 coach-player contact days allowed during the summer.
Smith used all 25 of his contact days and always has. Schlemmer did the same. Berge and Papoccia have different takes on the contact days subject.
“I hate summer contact days. The kids should be able to be kids,” Berge said. “But, everybody’s doing 25 days. If you’re not, you’re behind. I only did 18.”
Papoccia has never been a proponent of summer contact days. He said he only used five of them for each of the last 4 or 5 years, and they’re only for a 7-on-7 practice and four 7-on-7 games.
Who is going to enforce the policy?
“We had a webinar, and the IHSA said it will be enforced by each other,” Papoccia said. “I’m sure some school will try to beat the system, but in the long run it will blow up in their face. We’re going to stay true blue.”
Schlemmer hopes the policy is not in its final form.
“It’s probably not the best-case scenario this year,” he said. “In a year or two, we’ll probably get it were it should be.”
Smith is pleased with a key addition to the sports staff at Dixon that will aid in athlete safety.
“We’re going to have a [athletic] trainer for the first time,” he said. Before Smith took over the Dukes’ program, Andi Sumerfelt – now with Sterling – was Dixon’s athletic trainer. “I’m real happy about that. It’s a huge step in the right direction.”
Beating the heat
(The IHSA does not have a heat-related rule, but it does have a link to a heat acclimatization brochure on its website. The brochure incluces a heat-index chart and the IHSA’s recommendations.)
Category Heat Index Possible heat disorders
Extreme danger 130 degrees F or higher Heat stroke or sunstroke likley
Danger 105-129 degrees F Sunstroke, muscle cramps and/or heat exhaustion likely. Heatstroke possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity
Extreme caution 90-105 degrees F Sunstroke, muscle cramps and/or heat exhaustion possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity
Caution 80-90 degrees F Fatigue possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity
• Use an acclimatization plan during summer contact days
• Minimize or eliminate live tackling in the summer
• Avoid dangerous heat-index levels when conducting workouts
• Make use of summer contact days to teach and instruct until acclimatization has occurred
• Be smart – Play it safe