Bring on football … safely

Jul. 31, 2014 @ 06:43 PM

The thermometer may not break 80 today – and high school football practice gets underway.

That juxtaposition seems wrong. Aren’t those first days of drills supposed to see young athletes sweltering in the 90s?

We’re sure coaches and players will welcome the break. Those 95-degree days will be back soon enough, and there will be time enough to sweat.

Whatever the weather, today is one of those points on the calendar steeped in tradition and the rituals of youth. High school football may not be the obsession in these parts that it is, say, in Texas or Ohio or Pennsylvania, but it is big deal to the players, parents, fans and coaches who will take their turns under the Friday-night lights this fall.

And today – and until the first kickoff three weeks from now – everybody’s hopes are fresh, every team’s record is the same.

We already know some of the story arcs to watch this fall in our area.

Perhaps most enticing is Southern High School, which won the state’s 3-A championship last season.

Darius Robinson was the defensive coordinator of that squad and is in charge of the entire program after the N.C. Central plucked Adrian Jones, who was Southern’s head coach, to be the Eagles’ running backs coach.

Robinson has insisted that Southern remains hungry after winning it all last year. The Spartans want to repeat as state champs, he said.

Watching Southern’s defending-champion season unfold will be one attraction in the next four months.

There will be many more.

On a darker note, this season opens as there is growing concern over some of the sport’s more troubling aspects. Has the sport been too complacent about concussions, especially for younger players?  Can equipment be safer? While we want to encourage young men and women to be their best, whether at athletics, academics, the arts or whatever their passion, is there something askew when players change schools two and three times in a high school career in pursuit of playing time or just the right mentorship to advance their collegiate playing prospects?

On the plus side, pressure is mounting to recognize some underlying issues. Last October, a report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council concluded:

“In many settings, the seriousness of the threat to the health of an athlete, both acute and long term, from suffering a concussion is not fully appreciated or acted upon. Too many times the committee read or heard first-person accounts of young athletes being encouraged by coaches or peers to ‘play through it.’ This attitude is an insidious influence that can cause athletes to feel that they should jeopardize their own individual health as a sign of commitment to their teams.”

We have no reason that, in aggregate, area coaches are better or worse than that norm. But we hope that the message is being heard and heeded.

We’re all eager for the games to begin – as safely as possible.