Second Half editor
The heat wave that’s traveled across Michigan during these last few weeks of July is another reminder of the importance of preparing for activity in hot weather in advance of Michigan High School Athletic Association fall practices kicking off the new school year early next month.
Each year, the MHSAA provides information to its member schools to help them prepare for hot weather practice and game conditions during the late summer and early fall. Football practice can begin at MHSAA schools August 8, followed by first practices for all other fall sports August 10.
The topic of heat-related injuries receives a lot of attention at this time of year, especially when deaths at the professional, collegiate and interscholastic levels of sport occur, and especially since they are preventable in most cases with the proper precautions.
“Like many things that remain constant from year to year in educational athletics, preparation for hot weather activity is something we must continue to emphasize for our returning athletes and also a new class taking the field for the first time,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “If we take the precautions we should and plan as we should, we will avoid more of these tragedies in school sports.”
A number of member schools continue to follow the MHSAA’s Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity, which while not mandated for member schools was adopted as a rule for MHSAA postseason competition in 2013. The plan directs schools to begin monitoring the heat index at the activity site once the air temperature reaches 80 degrees and provides recommendations when the heat index reaches certain points, including ceasing activities when it rises above 104 degrees.
To also assist in acclimatization, football practice rule changes adopted in 2014 allow for only helmets to be worn during the first two days, only shoulder pads to be added on the third and fourth days, and full pads to not be worn until the fifth day of team practice. The policy in detail can be found on the Football page of the MHSAA Website.
Heat, hydration and acclimatization also are again focuses of the MHSAA’s required preseason rules meetings for coaches and officials. The online presentation discusses the need for good hydration in sports, regardless of the activity or time of year. The MHSAA requires all head varsity, varsity assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level to complete a rules and risk minimization meeting requirement.
The model heat & humidity policy is outlined in a number of places, including the publication Heat Ways, which is available for download from the MHSAA Website. Roberts reminded that the first days of formal practices in hot weather should be more for heat acclimatization than the conditioning of athletes, and that practices in such conditions need planning to become longer and more strenuous over a gradual progression of time. He noted that schools also must consider moving practices to different locations or different times of day, or change practice plans to include different activities depending on the conditions.
The Health & Safety Resources page of the MHSAA Website has a number of links to various publications and information and a free online presentation on preventing heat illness from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Also accessible through the MHSAA Health & Safety page are resources from Sparrow Health System, a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, which lends expertise on-site at various MHSAA tournament events and provides an online “Ask the Experts” feature to connect MHSAA.com users with Sparrow sports medicine caregivers.
“It is important for participants and their parents as well as coaches and administrators to become informed on how best to prepare for activity in hot weather,” Roberts added. “All involved need to be knowledgeable about proper hydration and the dangers of practicing and competing when the heat and humidity are too high.”
The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association began examining several topics during its Fall Meeting, Dec. 1 in East Lansing – including start and end dates of the winter calendar, possible new transfer rule exceptions and emerging sports – that will shape its work during the winter and spring meetings of this 2023-24 school year.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in March and May. The Council did take three actions this time as part of larger conversations expected to continue over the next six months.
The Council joined staff discussion on the start and end dates of winter seasons and the possibility of moving up both, which was among topics surveyed as part of the Update Meeting poll completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state this fall. Staff will prepare a recommendation for Council to review at a future meeting regarding the 2025-26 school year and beyond.
MHSAA staff also provided a variety of transfer rule issues encountered over the last year, and Council discussed the possibility of adding transfer rule exceptions related to military transfer families, fulltime school employee transfers and students returning from a sports academy or prep school and seeking immediate eligibility. The Council did adopt a change for multi-high school districts (with at least three high schools) that include both boundary and non-boundary schools that more clearly defined where students at those schools have immediate eligibility.
The Council also discussed possible new and emerging sports, including proposals for MHSAA sponsorship received by the water polo and field hockey governing bodies and an anticipated proposal to add boys volleyball to the MHSAA Tournament lineup.
Several more conversations regarded MHSAA postseasons:
- The Council reviewed the work of the Football Task Force and considered a staff recommendation to have the Football Committee in January discuss possibly capping enrollment of Division 8 11-player schools at 250 students to incentivize schools within that group to play 11-player instead of switching to 8-player.
- MHSAA staff have identified four areas requiring financial increases – MHSAA Tournament officials fees, host schools compensations, manager honorariums and team reimbursements for Finals participants – and the Council discussed the importance of including these when the MHSAA Audit & Finance Committee meets in February to begin the 2024-25 budgetary process.
- The Council also discussed recommendations from the MHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee addressing possible requirements of emergency action plans and AEDs at MHSAA Tournament sites.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Wyoming Godfrey-Lee Schools superintendent Arnetta Thompson and Freeland Middle School principal Jennifer Thunberg to two-year terms to the 19-person Council, the first terms for both. The Council also reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson as its vice president, and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.