Football teams and their high school coaches working together in the summer used to be taboo. Now, year-round practice is common and virtually mandatory.
Take various weekdays this summer. At campuses across the Times' four-county coverage area (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando), varsity and junior varsity teams play in seven-on-seven flag football leagues.
Head coaches supervise their teams. So, on Wednesdays at Gaither for example, Robert Weiner coaches the Plant team, David Mitchell coaches Wharton, and so on. But football players can play with any team they want. If an Armwood player wanted to join Freedom kids for the summer, there's no rule against that.
The rule change began with the 2006-07 school year after an FHSAA assembly voted to repeal the "50 percent clause" by a 46-6 vote, which limited coaches from working with their players out of season. The change came after schools in rural areas struggled to field teams with players other than those at one school, and in some cases were at risk of putting kids in the hands of less qualified coaches or those with hidden agendas.
"Our board of directors wanted a method that would put the students in the hands of the educationally based coaches more than the non-educational coaches," FHSAA associate executive director Sonny Hester said in an e-mail.
So what are the rules today?
• The FHSAA does not regulate summer athletics with the exception of football (ref. Policy 22 in FHSAA handbook). Instead, it calls on local school boards to create and enforce summer guidelines. Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando follow bylaws in the FHSAA handbook.
• Football teams are prohibited from wearing helmets or pads, and cannot partake in hitting of any form. Participation in leagues such as seven-on-seven is okay as long as there is a published schedule of competition.
• Coaches can host camps, clinics and workshops during the summer and must open them to any student. Coaches cannot transport kids to or from the event and cannot use the event to recruit participants to attend their school. Students can accept a fee for working the event. Students can attend a camp as an individual throughout the year, and teams can attend camps in the summer.
• Participation in summer activities is voluntary. No one can be forced to participate — directly or indirectly — for membership on a team.
• Offseason conditioning programs on campus are voluntary and open to all students at the school. Workouts must be supervised by school personnel.
• Coaches may contact students for various reasons (resolving insurance issues, reviewing film, building morale, etc.).
• All participation fees and assessments must be documented.
• Playing with a team primarily made up of kids from another school followed by a student's transfer to that school is considered a move for athletic purposes. Unless cleared by FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing, the student must sit out 365 days from the enrollment date.
• Possible penalties for a school that breaks the rules include a minimum $2,500 fine per violation, loss of practice time, loss of a preseason classic or jamboree with a reimbursement of a minimum $500 to each affected school and the FHSAA, reduction in regular-season home contests and loss of privileges to participate in the FHSAA state series.
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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