Wednesday marked the first official day of practice for fall high school sports teams, a calendar date that tends to be surrounded with enthusiasm and excitement.
It’s usually a mad dash to the start of the season, with coaches trimming rosters and keeping everyone healthy before things get serious on the first play date.
School doesn’t start until after Labor Day this year, and Carroll County’s sports schedule is altered in part because of it.
Schools get 20 days (including three additional days for heat acclimatization) from the first day of practice until the first play date of the season, according to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. This year, the first play date is Sept. 1. But in Carroll, some teams don’t have their first game until the following week.
The result is a case-by-case decision, depending on the sport, as to when coaches are starting practice — and how long they’re practicing.
Westminster athletic director Terry Molloy said he’s leaving it up to his coaches to decide. Football coach Matt Study said he loves the additional days; girls soccer coach Todd Muschik said he doesn’t see the need.
Football is a bit of an outlier with its stricter rules regarding heat acclimatization, five days required before the players are allowed to dress in full pads, and a limit on two-a-day practices. In some cases in years past, teams didn’t get their players into pads before the first scrimmage.
Football coaches, Study said, should relish the extra time.
“I want as many days as possible,” Study said. “I’m going to soak it up.”
Meanwhile, Muschik opted to begin practicing Saturday — the Owls will still get the required number of practice days, and their two scheduled scrimmages.
“We should be able to choose when we decide to start,” Muschik said. “My girls do conditioning three times a week during the summer. Their fitness isn’t an issue with me. Kids can get burned out. It’s just not needed.”
Many athletes use their summer down time to stay in shape, from cross country runners logging miles to voluntary weightlifting sessions in various team sports. Coaches can’t be present for such get-togethers, but they keep tabs on enough of their players to know who’s keeping fit.
Extra practice could lead to boredom, which is why Study and Winters Mill football coach Matt Miller said it’s their job to spice up the bonus time.
“Just like anything, in moderation,” Miller said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to be out there for three-and-a-half hours … This helps get them acclimated to the pads and hitting, things like that. It gives us more opportunities to iron out the kinks. It gives us extra time to evaluate kids. everyone kind of gets back into the swing of things that way.”
Football practice began for the Falcons on Wednesday at 8 a.m. and lasted until 11, with two hours devoted to on-field activities with players in helmets.
Across town, Westminster started at 6 with the sunrise. But Study and his coaching staff broke the practice into 20-minute periods, he said, and had the team inside for leadership and character-building activities.
Time can also be spent on film study, or more attention can be paid to all facets of the game.
“We don’t have the kids out there for seven hours,” Study said.
Still, coaches of other sports find the extra practice time a challenge. Field hockey goalies can’t wear pads for five practice days, a heat rule in line with football, so some coaches alter their start date accordingly.
Carroll’s volleyball teams don’t start playing until Sept. 5, giving county coaches a few allotted practice days to skip if they choose.
Like Study and Miller said, “You’ve got to be creative.”