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GHSA rule change draws mixed reviews
Richmond Hill High Schools Brandon Armstrong (2) tries to run through a group of defensive player during the RHHS spring-football scrimmage May 15 at Wildcat Stadium. New rules regarding contact in Georgia high-school football have drawn criticism. - photo by Photo by Bryan Browning

In just three short years, high-school football participation has decreased by 10 percent, according to statistics from the National Federation of State High School Associations, and many states are beginning to take notice.

The Georgia High School Association is the newest state athletic association to adopt policies regarding the amount of contact coaches can allow during football practices. The new rules were set to follow safety guidelines recommended last summer by the national federation.

Some coaches have adjusted to the impending rule changes, while others feel the GHSA has gone too far.

The new rules, which will take effect Aug. 1, will limit full contact to 45 minutes per day and 135 minutes per week in preseason and then only 30 minutes per day and 90 per week in the regular season. Coaches will not be permitted to schedule practices involving full-contact drills over three consecutive days.

“What’s alarming is almost a half million less (athletes participating) than we had three years ago,” said GHSA assistant football director Tommy Whittle in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “There (were) four or five states that adopted this rule, and they found 50 percent less concussions in practice.”

Whittle said the change in rules is to keep athletes safe, stating, “if Mama doesn’t think the game is safe, her son won’t be playing.”

Concussions are not the sole reason for a decline in football participation, however. In a recent poll by, 53 percent of parents said they would still allow their child to play football even after new studies showed an increase in concussion rates for high-school athletes. Eight percent were undecided in the poll, while 39 percent said “no.”

Whittle also noted that the number of reported concussions during the regular season remained relatively the same compared to previous years.

"Gonna be playing flag football soon it seems like,’’ said Charlie Winslette, a Georgia High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame member, in an interview with the AJC.

Statesboro High School head football coach Steve Pennington said the rule changes wouldn’t be a problem for his squad. The 11-year Blue Devil football coach said the rules are right on target with what his team generally does for practice in the fall.

“Based on what our practice schedules have been for the last 11 years, it won’t have any impact on us at all,” Pennington said. “We’re going to stay in the parameters of what the (GHSA) guidelines are. We’re going to maximize everything we can.”

Whittle said he received plenty of positive feedback from coaches who said their practice schedules would be unaffected by the GHSA rules.

Any school found to be in violation of the GHSA rules could face up to a $2,500 fine for the first offense. For the second offense, the school will be placed on probation and will not be eligible to participate in postseason play.

“It was once said, ‘Good coaches can plan, great coaches can adjust.’ Likewise, good players can follow plans, great players can follow adjustments,” Pennington said. “With the policies and the rules going on, the name of the game is knowing how to adjust. That’s a lesson in life. In a football game you’re constantly adjusting. Life isn’t going to give you everything that’s convenient and comfortable.”

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