Proposed limits on football practice, helmet use spark spirited outcry

Robert Polk wanted to get people talking about concussion safety in high school football.

His latest attempt can be considered a touchdown in that respect, but whether or not it stands up under review is another thing entirely.

With an increasing number of studies showing the adverse effects of hits in high school football on teenagers’ brains, the Everett School District athletic director recently proposed an amendment to the Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association that would severely curtail the use of school-issued football helmets and shoulder pads during the summer. WIAA Amendment 6 would restrict the use of school-issued helmets and other equipment to the WIAA season for that sport and summer all-state games.

The outcry against Amendment 6 was swift and loud. More than 400 high school and college coaches from around the state signed a petition against Amendment 6 and others took to message boards online, saying the rule would go too far in restricting offseason practices and scrimmages.

Lakewood football head coach Dan Teeter, who started the petition against Amendment 6, said that while Polk’s intentions are good, placing such strong restrictions on helmet usage during the summer could have unintended consequences.

“In my opinion it’s OK to take small steps and limit teams to attending only approved camps and limit spring contact to one week,” said Teeter, who runs a passing camp during the summer that would become irrelevant if Amendment 6 passed. “But this amendment just goes too far.”

Teeter pointed to players who would normally be wearing helmets hitting heads during summer drills as an example of a consequence of Amendment 6 that would put players in more danger, not less.

Besides making summer camps non-existent, Teeter said the rule would also cut into how much quality practice time football teams get during the summer and pointed to another aspect that would hurt not just the high school teams but the post-high school future of players.

“College coaches evalute prospects two ways: watching them on film and seeing them at camps. They want to see the kids in full pads,” Teeter said. “Kids play different when they know they’re not going to get hit. This amendment would affect how our in-state players are evaluated.”

Polk said he realizes that Amendment 6 is far-reaching, but that something needs to change.

“More and more studies are showing that the culmination of all of these hits are ending in brain trauma and lasting effects,” Polk said. “I wanted to make sure we got the conversation going about kids safety.”

Over the past 15 years, summer football camps, which include contact drills and full-pad scrimmages, have become part of the culture of high school football and increased the number of hits players take throughout their high school career. As the rule stands, players can use school-issued football equipment starting after Memorial Day weekend without restrictions until July 31.

“Football players could conceivably check out equipment right after Memorial Day and use it every day until July 31 without limits,” Polk said.

Polk said he talked to a Division III college football coach who said that many colleges have stricter rules on offseason contact than most high schools in the state of Washington. He also believes that most high school coaches agree that something needs to change in regards to offseason practices.

“When coaches get in a group many are either quiet on this subject or oppose changes,” Polk said. “But if you get them behind closed doors they admit something has to be in place because they see the risk.”

WIAA Amendment 6 will be discussed as part of the WIAA’s winter coalition meeting on March 12. Polk will discuss the amendment at that meeting with a debate to follow. The amendment will likely go up for a vote in mid-April. Teeter has contacted a few people who can speak during the meeting on March 12 and shared with them his concerns and the results of his petition.

“The petition doesn’t carry any official weight, but it does show who is opposed to this,” said Teeter, referencing state champion coaches like Skyline’s Matt Taylor and Lynden’s Curt Kramme as two coaches who have signed the petition.

Polk admitted that the passage of Amendment 6 is a long shot. But he feels that the discussion it has created will lead to a better amendment.

“I suspect it to fail, but my hope is that better views can come from it and we can come up with ideas to fix this,” Polk said.

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