By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
Coaches and players in Texas and Illinois adapted to new football practice limitations this fall, with the Texas policy focusing on contact, and the Illinois regulation emphasizing length of preseason practices.
Following are the main changes those states put in place heading into the 2013-14 season:
The University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, put into writing that, “During the regular season and postseason, no football player is allowed to participate in more than ninety (90) minutes of full contact practice per week,” effective with the first day of practice this fall.
The complete policy follows:
For the purposes of the of rule, "full contact" is defined as football drills or live game simulations where "live action" occurs. Live action, as defined by USA Football, is contact at game speed where players execute full tackles at a competitive pace taking players to the ground. A team may continue to dress in full pads for practice, but may only participate in live action drills and game time simulations no more than ninety minutes per athlete per week. It is assumed that when players are in shells (shorts, shoulder pads, and helmets) no live action drills or simulations will occur. This rule is intended to limit live action drills and simulations and not the number of practices a team may participate in full pads. A team may participate in "air," "bags," "wrap," and "thud" drills and simulations at any point. These contact levels are defined below:
• Air - Players should run unopposed without bags or any opposition
• Bags - activity is executed against a bag, shield or pad to allow for a soft-contact surface, with or without the resistance of a teammate or coach standing behind the bag.
• Wrap - Drills run at full speed until contact, which is above the waist with the players remaining on their feet.
• Thud - Same as wrap but tempo is competitive with no pre-determined winner and the players are not tackling to the ground.
The rule came to the UIL Legislative Council as a recommendation from the UIL Medical Advisory Committee, a permanent advisory committee to the Legislative Council which meets twice each year to discuss and review safety policies for UIL participants. The committee, which is made up of leading medical professionals in various specialties and includes representatives from the Texas High School Coaches Association, the Texas Girls Coaches Association, and the Texas State Athletic Trainer Association, unanimously recommended this limitation in full-contact football practice.
The rule formulates into a formal policy the existing actions of the majority of coaches across Texas, and most coaches have had to make few adjustments, if any. In fact, according to a story on statesman.com, the proposal caused more of an uproar on social media than from coaches.
“It’s not going to affect us in anyway,” Vandegrift HS coach Drew Sanders said in the story. “Most good coaches were way below that 90-minute amount already. Prior to legislation we still monitored it ourselves – the only change is now we have to keep up a log more publicly.”
Illinois put standards in place for its first 14 days of football practices, known as the state’s Preseason Football Acclimatization Practice Period. At the core of the policy is a three-hour practice limit for the first five days, during which teams can also conduct a one-hour walk-through.
Teams must observe a minimum two hours rest between the practices and walk-throughs. Players may wear helmets only on the first two days, then helmets and shoulder pads for the next three. From days seven through 14 of the acclimatization period, schools may practice for a maximum of five hours per day, as long as that day is followed by a three-hour day, or an off day. During the five-hour days, no session can last more than three hours and must include a two-hour break between practices. Full pads may be worn for the final seven dates leading up to the first contest.
“This policy was the result of a collaborative effort between the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and the Football Advisory Committee,” said SMAC committee member and University of Illinois Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery Dr. Preston M. Wolin. “The guidelines are based on the most recent scientific evidence, as well as the expertise of the coaches who will help implement them. Both committees believe the guidelines represent a significant positive contribution to the health of our athletes.”
“This new policy undoubtedly changes the way we, as coaches, approach preseason practice,” said Metamora HS coach Pat Ryan, who is a member of the FAC and a past President of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. “Coaches have to get more creative with when and how they schedule practices, as well what they do with their time. The proposals were strongly supported by both committees. It is a crucial final step to the process of being able to effectively prepare our teams in a safe manner. Change is always difficult, but the game is changing and we need to adapt to continue to put the safety of our players first.”
The IHSA offered multiple interactive online webinar meetings for high school coaches leading up to the start of practice where questions were answered, along with further clarifications on the policy and the science behind it.
“I think most coaches understood that changes were on the horizon,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “We wanted to be in a position to give our coaches as much information as possible to make sure they are comfortable with the new policy. Their input will be critical moving forward as we develop educational materials, like a best practices presentation. I commend our committees on a policy that is supported by medical experts, football coaches and school administrators.”
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)