By Patrick Bernadeau
For Hometown News
TREASURE COAST - With pre-season practice underway since Aug. 6 and the start of the high school fall sports season right around the corner, schools begin their preparations under new standards sent down from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Designed to protect and ease student-athletes back into action in their respective sports, the FHSAA has assigned new procedures focusing on heat, hydration and concussions, while placing a practice time limit for the during the fall two weeks of pre-season practice.
Implemented by the FHSAA's board of directors in June, school must adhere to the following:
. Limit weekly practice time to 18 hours during the first two weeks of practice, to allow student-athletes to adapt to conditions
. Ensure that for every 30 minutes of practice, student-athletes get a minimum five-minute rest and hydration break
. Require unrestricted access to water for student-athletes at all times
. Require coaches and others in authority to never deny a student-athlete access to water if requested.
In addition, the FHSAA also adopted a new concussion and heat-related illness form. By explaining the symptoms and risks associated with each problem, the form creates a heightened level of safety awareness among students-athletes and their coaches.
A concussion action plan developed by the FHSAA's sports medicine advisory subcommittee and adopted by the board requires the following:
. Any student-athlete who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion - such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems - must be immediate removed from the competition and cannot return to play until he or she is cleared by an appropriate health care professional.
. All head coaches and other paid coaches are required to view an online education course about concussions.
Lastly, the FHSAA has created a new consent form related to concussions and heat-related illness to ensure parents understand the conditions and rules that apply to them.
As far as the early returns on these changes from an on-the-field standpoint, with less time to work with, coaches have placed an emphasis on slowly building up the pace as the practices go along.
Ron Parker, head football coach at St. Lucie West Centennial, conducted his practices with the focus primarily on simplicity.
"The old saying is that you got to crawl before you walk," said Parker.
"We basically have to get more reps, keep it as simple as we can, get it down right and move on to the next chapter."
Fort Pierce Central head football coach Josh Shaffer said the changes have not called for drastic adjustments for his squad.
"It just changes the fact that we're not doing two-a-days during the first week but we had planned on slowing it down a little bit," said Shaffer. "We've incorporated the five-minute breaks after every period but other than that, it hasn't changed much."
Over at Martin County High School, head coach Chuck Kenyon also hasn't had to made dramatic changes to his approach due to cutbacks on time.
"Even before this year, we didn't do two-a-days last, so the changes hasn't affected us on that level," said Kenyon.
Central, Centennial, and Martin County will all be playing home games for their respective kickoff classics on Aug. 24.
The Cobras play Treasure Coast at Calvin R. Triplett Field at Lawnwood Stadium, while the Eagles will battle Fort Pierce Westwood from South County Regional Stadium.
The Tigers will host John I. Leonard from Greenacres at Bob Collins Stadium. All games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.