KHSAA working to stay ahead of the curve with football safety measures
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
Concussions are a hot-button topic in football right now, but KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett says Kentucky is ahead of the curve with measures designed to protect high school players.
“All of the (concussion) recommendations nationally are exactly what we’ve been doing,” Tackett said. “We realized early on that the problem was not the big blow that (the media) like to play up. It was getting enough time (to recover) after the first one.”
This past April, the association adopted a policy limiting the amount of contact players can have in practice and limiting the number of quarters a player can participate in to eight in a week.
“The changes made this year were pretty significant; for some schools they were dramatic because they had kind of been doing what they wanted to for years. So it’ll take a year or two to see how the games play out,” Tackett said. “When I see less injuries in November because they aren’t beat up from July and August, it’ll be good. And I think that’s what will happen. Our players will be able to take the longer season and we won’t have some of the injuries maybe we’ve had before.”
Longtime Belfry High School (Pike County) coach Philip Haywood said he doesn’t think the new rules have affected the level of play on Friday nights.
“Most of us were probably at that limit or less anyway, based on the guidelines of what they consider contact. So it’s probably not as big a change for the majority of the coaches as what a lot of people come to believe,” Haywood said. “I think football’s changed a lot maybe over the years … to maybe where you just went out and scrimmaged every day. It’s just not that kind of a game anymore because of the physicality of the game.”
Haywood, who is a member of the KHSAA’s football advisory committee, said the awareness of concussions has risen “drastically” in the past decade.
First year Woodford County coach Dennis Johnson, who played at the University of Kentucky and in the NFL, says his rule of thumb is to limit contact in practice to less than 3 yards.
“You’ve got to err on the side of caution nowadays,” he said.
Tackett said high school football is “safer than it’s ever been” but the KHSAA must continue to make adjustments to keep the game strong.
“I think we’ve just got to stay on top of the research on injuries, we’ve got to quit being so concerned about whether the kid’s in bounds or out of bounds and worry about making mom feel comfortable that junior can play,” Tackett said. “If we see a trend data coming, we’ve got to get ahead of it with either rules or policy. And that’s what we’re doing.
“(Concussions are) definitely the issue du jour. If we weren’t having the deaths of the people that played NFL football, and we weren’t having some of the stuff about (brain injury) that they’re finding in a lot of former NFL players … I don’t think you’d be hearing about concussions as much,” Tackett said. “But that gives it a national stage. And then we give it numbers. The NFL has 53 people times 32 teams. We’ve got that many playing in the city of Lexington. It’s a numbers thing for us; the probabilities are so much higher.”
Tackett said 94 percent of high school football players never play the sport past graduation, which minimizes the long-term risks compared with NFL players.
“For people to think that by playing three or four years of high school football you’ve got the same exposure to CTE that you have if you played a 10-year NFL career is just not statistically valid,” Tackett said.
Anderson County coach Mark Peach, who is also on the state’s football advisory committee, said coaches are more educated now about concussion risks and that an emphasis on proper techniques will help keep players safe.
“I think football is still a wonderful opportunity to teach young people some wonderful lessons in life that, just to be quite frank, in today’s society they’re not going to get in a lot of places,” Peach said. “… But we’re always looking to try and make it a better game for everybody.”