High school football practices start Friday

John Cantey has a unique perspective on the evolution of high school football practices to begin the season. After all, he’s been around the sport since he was 4 years old when he served as a “team manager” for the Bishop England High School football program, which happened to be coached by his father, the legendary Jack Cantey.

The younger Cantey also played for his father at Bishop England in the 1990s and is now head coach of the team. The Bishops and other High School League teams, including Hanahan and Philip Simmons, begin practice this Friday as the 2018 season nears.

“It’s a whole different world,” Cantey said of the transformation of practices when he was first introduced to the sport.

The forecast calls for a high of 88 degrees Friday, which isn’t off the charts. But the dog days of August are upon us and that means the combination of heat and humidity can make the comfort level reach 110-115 degrees.

Cantey can remember helping bring out tackling dummies to begin practice and handing out water bottles at the end. One of his biggest memories is there might have been only one water cooler for 40-50 players.

That was when boys were challenged to prove their manhood by going through grueling practices without water, and were supposedly aided by salt tablets.

And then there were two-a-days, which turned into three- and four-a days. Cantey remembers when he was a player, the Bishops would head to the old Baptist College and practice before breakfast, after breakfast and then before lunch and after lunch.

Today Cantey doesn’t even hold two-a-days.

Bishop England, and other schools can skip two-a-days because weightlifting and voluntary practices are held throughout summer. Offensive and defensive schemes are put into place and the coaches and trainers can monitor their athletes’ health, urging them to eat healthy and drink plenty of fluids.

And while a coach’s whistle can end a play, a trainer’s whistle can end a practice if the combination of heat and humidity becomes too unbearable.

“Our trainers monitor our practices,” Cantey said. “They can adjust practices based on the heat and humidity. We might have to practice without helmets, or practice without shoulder pads. We might have to switch from (football) pants to gym shorts. We are cautious.”

The High School League has stepped in to ensure the safety of its student-athletes.

In July, the league implemented a rule that trainers must watch over practices when heat can be dangerous by monitoring sessions and the weather with a wet-bulb thermometer. Bishop England has used the wet-bulb thermometer for years.

Heat-related deaths on the football field gained national attention in August 2001 when 27-year-old Korey Stringer, an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, died of a heat stroke during training camp.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research, since 1995, three football players a year die from traumatic heat stokes.

The University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute ranks South Carolina near the bottom of safety, but the addition of the wet-bulb thermometer should make sports played in heat, humidity and intense sunshine much safer.

The High School League also has a policy that requires coaches to take-online classes to gain knowledge on the latest concussion protocol, heat safety issues and sudden cardiac arrest.

“Our trainers are fully involved in our athletes’ lives,” Cantey said. “They try to monitor what they eat, drink and sleep. They are fully involved.”

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