Georgia high school football coaches have had to walk a fine line this summer as they prepare their teams for the season.
New GHSA practice guidelines, put into place to help protect athletes from the often oppressive heat in training camp, have combined with the long-standing policy of allowing teams only one scrimmage in putting programs behind in their preparation. Though coaches in the northwest Georgia area are behind the effort to protect the players, they also feel more time is needed to both prepare a team and condition the players.
"First of all, we need to keep our kids safe," said Dalton coach Matt Land, whose team opens tonight at Ringgold, the only Georgia game in the area. "However, I can't say that the time allowed is enough to get the kids ready for a full game, much less prepare the team."
The policy made it mandatory that each athlete spend five two-hour practices in shorts before they could participate in a full practice. Though those days were added to the beginning of the training-camp schedule, teams then had to monitor those acclimation days and pull players out of scheduled regular practices if they missed any of them.
The new policy also limited the amount of two-a-day practices. Teams no longer can have back-to-back days of two practices. The new rules forced some teams, such as Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, to stay home from a usual camp trip because it no longer made sense financially to go away.
One change coaches highly favor would be to allow -- as the TSSAA does -- more than one scrimmage. Several area coaches said they would even do away with spring practice to get more scrimamge time.
"I would give up all of spring to have more scrimmages," Ringgold coach Robert Akins said. "In Texas one year, if you gave up spring you could get more scrimmage time, which would be a great option for us."
Added Gordon Lee's Charlie Wiggins: "I think spring practice should be limited to helmets only, and then we could allow for one ore two more scrimmages in the fall. This would allow smaller schools like us to work against good players and be conditioned and ready. With over half our players competing in other sports in the spring, this would work well for us."
Akins and Wiggins, like LFO's Todd Windham and Heritage's Tim James, all coached in Tennessee and have seen the benefit of an extra scrimmage. They all feel their teams would be better prepared to play four quarters and that the quality of play would improve.
"Obviously, the more time you can see your team play against someone else the better you're going to be prepared," James said. "It would certainly help condition the players as well, which is of main concern."
Akins believes if enough coaches voice their thoughts to the GHSA the organization will listen, though the new acclimation policy is here to stay.
"They usually listen, but this acclimation period is a big deal for them, and it should be our main consideration in Georgia to keep our kids safe," he said. "I want to have a couple of scrimmages so we can get more game experience so we can get ready to play. I feel we're conditioned well enough, but there's nothing like live game experience, and that's where we're lacking in Georgia."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...