WIAA Amendement could prohibit helmets, shoulder pads during spring and summer | Prep football news

Bellevue's Tyler Hasty prepares to take on a block during a spring scrimmage with Lincoln before the 2011 season. Hasty, who accepted a scholarship to Oregon State University, was the 3A AP State Player of the Year for the now four-time defending state champion Wolverines.
— image credit: Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter

Months before taking down nationally ranked Oaks Christian and rival Skyline, before trouncing Lakes in the most anticipated state quarterfinal in recent memory and running away with a fourth straight class 3A state title, the Bellevue football team stood on the sideline during a warm spring afternoon, chomping at the bit before a scrimmage with Lincoln.

"The kids had been waiting for that since spring ball started," assistant coach Matt Razore said. "It was their payoff."

If the Everett School District gets its way, Bellevue and other football programs around the state will spend the spring and summer waiting until the fall to cash that cheque.

Middle School/High School Amendment Six, titled "Out-of-season, use of school equipment" would limit the usage of football helmets and shoulder pads to the designated WIAA season, fall.

School districts would be allowed to authorize the use of facilities and other school owned equipment, with the exception of football helmets and shoulder pads.

"School uniforms, football helmets and shoulder pads may be worn ONLY during the WIAA season for that sport except during Washington State Coaches Association feeder or all state contests," reads Part 'A' of the amendment.

The 'pros', as listed in the document prepared for the WIAA Representative Assembly, contend it would decrease the number of hits student-athletes would take in a season (particularly concussions).

Amendments five and six were both proposed by Everett School District and Jackson High School Athletic Director Robert Polk, who is a member of the Representative Assembly from Northwest District 1. The same four 4A Wesco schools, Cascade (Everett), Marysville-Pilchuck, Marysville-Getchell and Everett High School were listed as supporters to give the amendment the required five signers.

Polk said the main motivation behind his proposal was safety and limiting the number of hits football players take throughout the year.

"We're hearing more and more about concussions in the sport of football and other sports," Polk said. "Studies are coming out that concussions are not only caused by one impact but are the result of continuous contact and may lead to other brain injuries."

WesCo coaches discussed the issue at the league's postseason meeting and it received what he termed "mediocre" support.

With that in mind, Polk crafted the amendments to create a level playing field for football programs across the state and ensure coaches that taking steps to reduce contact would not be punished with a competitive disadvantage.

"I sometimes believe coaches will respond one way around their peers but behind closed doors, will have a different opinion," Polk said. "Their biggest fear is they don't want to get left behind what other schools are doing."

The only listing under the "Cons" is: "Athletes may not be prepared to the same extent as in years past, but all teams would have the same amount of time for conditioning and preparation." But coaches from around the area believe the detriments of the Amendment would run far deeper.

Mat Taylor, who has taken Skyline to the 4A state title game in each of his four seasons as head coach and won three championships including the most recent, believes the amendments are well-intentioned but would come with consequences that could hurt student-athletes' chances at being recruited and may actually lead to more injuries.

"I understand that maybe we need to limit the amount of days we do in the offseason," Taylor said. "But that needs to be equitable across all sports and you can't use football equipment as a way to do it."

The Spartans typically put on helmets and shoulder pads for eight days during the allotted spring practice period and attend the team camp at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma during the summer, where they don pads for a total of four days.

The team camps offer a range of opportunities for student-athletes hoping to be seen by smaller college coaches like the Division III Loggers. It is also the only time many teams will face opposition in a contact situation before the first game of the regular season.

"You basically get four days just isolated with your kids and it's a great team boding experience," Taylor said. "The game of football is so much about the equipment you're wearing."

Taylor added that even if every football program in the state is on a level playing field because of the rule change, that would not be the case when considering out-of-state games, of which his team will play two in 2012.

The 3A state champion Bellevue Wolverines also have at least one high profile opponent from outside our state borders on the docket for the coming season with rumors of Euless-Trinity (Texas) agreeing to travel to the Emerald City for a nationally televised interstate showdown.

Assistant coach Matt Razore, who volunteered at Pinnacle High School in Ariz. during the spring of 2010, said if the rule change passed it would have a real downside headed into that game. During the spring he spent in Arizona, Razore said teams were not permitted to use helmets and shoulder pads during spring and summer workouts as a precaution against overheating.

"It was 95 to 100 degrees and so we couldn't have pads because of the heat," Razore said. "But the school also had a football class."

One piece of evidence Polk supplied for his position on the issue was the Division III college football rule that prohibits pad use for any out-of-season activity. But Interlake coach Jason Rimkus, who spent two seasons coaching at his alma mater Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, said while the rule takes the pads off players, it's stated intent of eliminating contact was simply impossible to enforce.

"We ran it just like a normal practice, but without pads," Rimkus said, adding that there was no live tackling and there were always "quick whistles" during drills. "We had a couple lineman that got some big time cuts because they banged heads. Coaches are competitive people and they are going to find ways to push the envelope to get their team as prepared as possible."

Rimkus also shared concern about placing such stringent limitations on gear use during the spring and summer, which is a time period he has used for the past two seasons to offer first-time football players a chance to become acclimated with the gear and decide whether or not football is for them.

"I think its safer for a kid to be in pads for 10 to 12 days in June than it is to give him from November to August without pads and then two weeks later expect him to go play a game," he said. "If they're going to do anything, it would be limiting the amount of time you can have with your kids. I think the kids being in pads and getting used to the physical part of the game, getting their feet underneath them in that regard is helpful to their safety for the fall."

Dan Teeter, the head coach at 2A Lakewood High School near Arlington, felt so strongly about the likelihood of those unintended consequences taking hold that he drafted an online petition he plans to present as evidence that coaches around the state are largely opposed to Amendment Six.

Teeter said he had approximately 170 signatures when he spoke with the Reporter less than 24 hours after putting it online. Many of those were from head coaches, some of whom carried the concern that the rule change would create the potential for wealthier programs with booster clubs to circumvent the rule by purchasing equipment that would not be owned by the school and therefore could be used out of season without putting the athlete or district in violation.

Another factor both Taylor and Teeter cited was the fact that helmets and shoulder pads do not always equate to full or even partial contact drills.

During the Cougars annual passing league tournament, which features around 20 teams from across the state, players wear helmets and shoulder pads primarily to avoid unintended head-to-head contact with other players, not create it.

"It's not a contact tournament but we wear helmets for safety reasons," Teeter said, "It will actually have a negative impact where it will create more safety hazards. If a kids is running full speed going for a ball, there is a safety factor."

Each of the 11 high school football programs in Bellevue, Issaquah and Sammamish wore helmets and shoulder pads for their spring practices and most had players which attended summer camps. Those camps are crucial to student-athletes hoping to be recruited and for many, the only other option would be to purchase pads out of pocket to use in those events.

One of the most highly recruited players from Bellevue in the 2013 class is Newport quarterback Isaac Dotson, who first took the reins of the Knights' offense as a freshman.

Now preparing for his fourth and final prep season and entering the most heated portion of the college recruitment process, Dotson said the only camp he has attended that required pads was the team camp hosted by Central Washington University that his team attended during the summer.

"I'm pretty sure, as of now, I'm just doing no-contact skills camps," Dotson said. "I've only had a couple invitations to camps where they asked to bring pads and helmets."

While known commodities such as Dotson and Skyline signal caller Max Browne (pictured above during a spring practice) have every scouting service and talent evaluator following their every move, student-athletes hoping to land at an FCS, Division II, Division III or NAIA school have their best chance to be seen during the team attended camps.

"We have some kids that are finally realizing that goal of playing college football, not necessarily D-I but college," Teeter said. "They (coaches at camp hosting colleges) have a chance to evaluate our kids and it's not the same without seeing them take contact."

A quick online search yields waves of certified helmets, shoulder pads and every other piece of equipment necessary to outfit a football player for a camp, but with costs for the pair hovering around $600 for what amounts to only a handful of uses, that isn't always a practical option.

"It could create a disparity between the haves and have nots," Teeter said.

Teeter's fear of more affluent populations using deep pockets to bypass the intent of the rule was something Polk had admittedly not considered and adds to a list of potential complications that may require reworking the language of the amendment to fit the designed intent.

"There's a lot of grey area and angles and that is one I had not thought about," Polk said of booster clubs or parent organizations footing the bill for helmets and shoulder pads that would not fall into the rule as it is currently worded. "I realize putting this out there it might not be perfect and conversation will need to take place."

2012 WIAA Representative Assembly Docket

16 Amendments on 2012 docket There are 16 amendments taking on issues from cheerleading eligibility to what constitutes a "contest" during the tennis season. Each will be discussed by the WIAA Representative Assembly voters and league presidents from around the state on Tuesday, Mar. 12. Voting will be finalized in the middle of April and will require a 60 percent majority to pass. Amendments that are passed through the WIAA Representative Assembly will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2012. The only official from any school in Bellevue, Issaquah or Sammamish on the Representative Assembly is Eastlake Athletic Director Brent Kawaguchi.


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