Coaches cope in weather

AT PLAY

Heat cuts practice time and has youth football playing catch-up

At Play

August 16, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The scorching 100-degree weather this month has faded to merely uncomfortable 85-degree weather, but the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association is still feeling its effects.

Like the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins and area colleges, the preteen players are battling the heat in summer camp.

The professional and college teams continued to work, but practices for the youth teams were canceled until the record-breaking heat wave broke, forcing coaches to play catch-up before the season starts early next month.

Practices were supposed to start July 31, but Anne Arundel County's Department of Recreation and Parks stopped all activities after 3 p.m. because the heat index was pushing 110 degrees all week.

Coaches and administrators must balance their concerns about getting the association's 4,000 young athletes ready for the season with serious concerns about heat-related health risks.

On Friday, a 16-year-old football player from Stafford High School in Virginia died of hyperthermia after collapsing during football practice in 90-degree weather.

Duane Jones, an assistant coach with the Gambrills Odenton Recreation Council 105-pound team and an Arundel association commissioner, said nobody wants to give up the valuable time for conditioning and learning positions and plays and coming together as a team. "They get breaks and water when they need it, plenty of water. They want to learn. We don't go overkill once we see that they have learned the drill. We move on to something else."

Jones said GORC programs were able to get some work in during the heat wave by having the players go through three days of drills in shorts and T-shirts, something that most college and professional teams do in hot weather or in a second daily practice.

The Ravens and Redskins moved morning practices up to 8:15 a.m., when the temperature was lower. Washington took it one step further, moving afternoon practices to 7 p.m. to help beat the heat.

Ivan Quinones, commissioner of Severn Football and an Arundel association board member, said coaches want to make sure the players adjust to playing in full pads in that heat. "There's a lot of kids that don't play sports year-round, and they need to get in condition," he said.

Quinones, who also serves as the offensive coordinator for Severn's 105-pound team, said coaches in the 24 programs have to explain the most basic rules to many of the children - like there's four downs on each series. It's why summer practice is so crucial.

Practices finally got going on a regular basis last week, with most teams working out each weeknight along with a Saturday scrimmage, something that made several concerned coaches feel much better.

"They're catching up now," said Quinones. "You're never going to get back the lost time."

Despite missing so much practice time, Quinones said that delaying the season never was a consideration. It just meant everyone had to do a little more work in a little less time.

The teams will practice four or five nights a week until school starts, when they change to no more than three nights a week.

In-season practices are different, focusing on the offensive and defensive strategies that will be used in that weekend's games.

Most teams will practice about 90 minutes a night during the season, which starts Labor Day weekend and includes nine games plus the playoffs.

"I think the biggest thing that the kids are able to get out of summer practice is a sense of commitment and dedication and, of course, camaraderie," said Jason Clarke, coach of the Millersville Wolverines 85-pound team.

"The main thing is that these kids are giving up their summer to come up there every night. That takes ... a lot of hard work and dedication on their part."

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