MHSAA decision OKs late football kickoffs

by Sean Dunlap

Can 30 minutes make a difference when it comes to balancing heat-related illnesses and playing football?

The Mississippi High School Activities Association thinks so and has acted accordingly at its most recent Executive Committee gathering.

For the first time in almost a decade, the organization voted to roll back the start of varsity football contests to 7:30 p.m. — at least through the end of September — across the Magnolia State.

“During the meeting, when this was passed, the statement was made that the worst thing that can happen to a school is to lose a student-athlete during a game or practice because of heat exhaustion,” MHSAA Executive Director Rickey Neaves said.

The later start, in conjunction with other previously adopted precautionary measures — like sanctioned time outs for hydration about halfway through each quarter of play and a 14-day preseason period where players are not permitted to put on full gear for at least the first five days of practice — is hoped to reduce instances of heat-induced injuries.

MHSAA-sanctioned football practices for the 2022 season are set to begin on Monday, Aug. 8 with preseason jamborees slated for the weekend of Friday, Aug. 19 and the start of the regular season on the weekend of Friday, Aug. 26.

“Any measures that we can take that we feel like enhances the safety of our student-athletes, we will do,” Neaves went on to say.

Franklin County High School Head Football Coach B.J. Smithhart said he, for one, does not object to the change in football kickoff times for his Bulldogs’ varsity program to begin its fall campaign.

“It’s probably the best thing we can do from a player safety standpoint because getting acclimated to the heat takes time,” Smithhart continued.

“One of the biggest things we push in any practice is being properly hydrated well before our guys take the field and taking frequent water breaks during scheduled activities.

“Learning to take care of yourself physically is one of the biggest responsibilities for football players and something everyone here takes seriously.”

While the state association’s ruling particularly addresses varsity football, middle school, freshman and junior varsity games will not be impacted by later start times because those programs do not play 12-minute quarters.

However, the state organization is suggesting schools can look at changing sub-varsity game start times to later in the day as needed due to heat concerns that might arise.

At least 50 high school football players across the country have died from heat stroke after falling ill in the past 25 years.

Heat stroke has now become the leading cause of death in sports-related activities.

Nine of the 10 hottest years on record globally have been recorded since 2012, and this year’s heat waves seen across much of Mississippi foreshadow a brutal late summer trend with high temperatures and elevated humidity through August and September.