York Suburban football players use their water break to cool down during a 90-degree practice in August 2009. The PIAA’s new heat acclimatization
York Suburban football players use their water break to cool down during a 90-degree practice in August 2009. The PIAA's new heat acclimatization program requires football teams to hold three consecutive workouts before any contact is allowed. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- file)
One way or another, the start of practice this coming August has changed dramatically for every PIAA football program in the state.

The PIAA Board of Directors passed a heat acclimatization program, effective this upcoming season, at its March meeting. The new rule requires coaches to submit a heat acclimatization and hydration program to their principals and also will force football coaches to determine when their players will begin contact drills.

Following the advice of its sports medicine advisory committee, the PIAA will require all football players to engage in three days of heat acclimatization before any contact can begin at formal practice.

These workouts must take place on consecutive days, but there's a twist in the PIAA's final ruling. The workouts can occur in the week before the formal start of PIAA fall practice on Monday, Aug. 12, or it can take place during the first three days of formal practice.

The decision to give an optional, early start period grew out of concerns by many board members that using the first three days of practice would leave teams underprepared for the first scrimmage of the season, which cannot occur before Saturday, Aug. 17. The Board also noted that some schools might not be able to open the schools or have all students available before Aug. 12.

Regardless of which option a school chooses, the primary details of the program remain the same: Players may wear helmets, shoulder pads and shorts only the first two days and can add the remaining protective gear on the third day.

If a school opts for the early start, no contact is permitted at any point during the three-day period, although footballs can be used during the acclimatization drills.

If a school opts to acclimatize during the traditional practice period, contact is permitted on the third day.

Also, no practice or heat acclimatization session may exceed three hours and must be followed by a minimum two-hour recovery period. Teams can't practice more than 5 hours in aggregate on a given day.

The issue was debated almost endlessly during the past four months, eventually resulting in a football ad hoc committee deciding the final format. That committee, chaired by District 3 chairman Sam Elias of Lebanon High School, approved the rule 17-2. The full board, which voted on the measure later that day, passed it by a 22-8 vote.

The debate centered not on whether an acclimatization program was necessary; the board generally agreed with the sports medicine committee on its need given that 41 scholastic football players nationwide have suffered heat-related deaths since 1995.

In addition, both the National Football League and the NCAA have mandatory acclimatization programs that are three weeks, not three days, long. Also, the PIAA wanted to approve a program before the state legislature hit it with more surprise legislation, something that occurred over the last two years with bills related to sudden cardiac arrest syndrome, concussions and gender equity studies.

Rather, the debate came down to implementation. Some districts favored the early start; some -- Districts 1 and 3 voted in the negative at the committee level -- felt an early start created an undue burden on schools and students.

The bottom line is that schools that choose the early start will effectively gain three days of non-contact practice; the PIAA will permit football-related drills that do not involve contact.

And a school that does not use the early start might consider moving its first scrimmage to Monday, Aug. 19, instead of using Saturday, Aug. 17, the day the virtually all schools have marked for the first scrimmage. Rather, some schools are considering using the 17th as a full-contact practice, then scrimmaging on the 19th.

The heat acclimatization program only applies to football, primarily because the equipment does not provide for proper cooling of the body, according to PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi.

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Winter proposals: The PIAA basketball steering committee made the following proposals to the Board of Directors, which next meets May 23 in Mechanicsburg. The Board must approve the proposals before they are implemented:

Lower Merion’s Henry Oliver (15) celebrates with his teammates after they defeated Chester in the PIAA Class AAAA boys’ championship game.
Lower Merion's Henry Oliver (15) celebrates with his teammates after they defeated Chester in the PIAA Class AAAA boys' championship game. (Associated Press -- Keith Srakocic)

--- To remove the current prohibition on spectators seated behind the baskets from waving or otherwise distracting a player is attempting a foul shot, effective in the 2013-2014 season.

--- Ensure that all basketball first-round opponents play an opponent from another district. This past season, there were six first-round games that matched opponents from the same district.

--- Introduce a policy requiring all spectators at PIAA basketball playoffs to wear a shirt.

The PIAA wrestling steering committee made the following proposals:

--- Direct PIAA staff to investigate a change in format of the PIAA team championships. Beginning in 2014-2015, the proposal is to change the format to complete each class in two days instead of three days. The suggestion from the wrestling committee was to wrestle one class on Thursday and Friday, the other class on Friday and Saturday.

--- Direct PIAA staff to investigate the elimination of team championship preliminary round matches currently wrestled on the Monday before the round of 16 at Giant Center. Should the Board agree to the elimination of preliminary round matches, it would reduce both the Class AA and Class AAA fields from their current 20 teams to 16 teams.

There were no proposals from the PIAA swimming and diving steering committee.

PIAA basketball championship notes: Attendance at the PIAA basketball championships, which returned to Hershey's Giant Center after a six-year run at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center, attracted 24,582 paid fans. That's an increase of more than 10,000 from last year (14,421) at Penn State. ... Roberts Vaux High School won the Class A boys' championship against Johnsonburg. It was the Philadelphia school's first PIAA basketball championship and likely its last: The School District of Philadelphia has recommended the closure of Vaux to help close a $1.85 million budget gap. ...

Two championship games matched teams from the same PIAA district: The Class AAAA boys' title game between District 1's Chester and Lower Merion and the Class AAA boys' game between Imhotep Charter and Archbishop Carroll. It has not been a rare occurrence since the PIAA erased the tradition East vs. West brackets in 2005. Those games were the eighth and ninth championship games pairing schools from the same district. That's 12.5 percent all title games since 2005; Chester vs. Lower Merion has accounted for three of those nine games. ...

Lower Merion head coach Gregg Downer became a father for the first time, just two days before his team knocked off Chester and gave the school its seventh PIAA basketball title, one behind Chester's record eight.