The summer heat has taken its toll on the high school football players across the state for the past two years, including the Thomson Bulldogs.
Thanks to a Georgia High School Association executive committee ruling on Monday, that will all change for the 2006 season. Practices will start three weeks later than they have for the past two years, and the regular season will begin two weeks later.
The ruling was spurred by a letter from Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney and Thomson resident Dennis Sanders who Bulldog supporters hear every football Friday night on WTHO's coverage of Thomson games. Mr. Sanders said he felt strongly about protecting the health of the players.
"I reminded them and said that I think it's obvious that you're willing to accept civil responsibility, meaning being sued, but I was wondering if any of them had given any consideration to the criminal liability," Mr. Sanders said.
According to Steve Figueora, GHSA director of media relations, looking out for the safety of the student athletes won out during the meeting, and that's something for which Thomson Coach Luther Welsh is glad.
"Gosh that's three weeks later; therefore, they aren't in the sun in July. That July deal will kill you," said Coach Welsh, who represents Region 3-AAA on the executive committee. "This is 100 percent better. The kids have a little more summer; everybody else does too."
After one summer practice last year, tight end Arcephus Jones was hospitalized when he collapsed from the heat. He missed the entire season due to lingering complications. That incident caught the attention of Mr. Sanders.
"What really grabbed me was when we had a young man last year who almost died," he said. "I urged (the GHSA) to not wait until a tragedy forced them to make a change."
It was those kinds of incidents and the potential for more that Mr. Figueroa said caused the committee to change the start date.
"People just said we need to get out of July, so we got out of July," he said. "Luckily we didn't have a lot of problems, but we had a lot of people who were worried we would have problems. It was just a matter of time, obviously, before something bad was going to happen, and we just didn't want to risk that."
The reasons behind the early start dates for the past two years was that championship games were being played during Christmas holidays when schools were out, and winter weather presented a concern as well.
Also, earlier school start dates were squeezing football camps out of existence. But the committee thought starting later was the "lesser of two evils," Mr. Figueroa said.
For the 2006 season, practice begins on Aug. 7 in helmets and shoulder pads only and in full pads on Aug. 14. Games cannot start before Sept. 1. The regular season will end on Nov. 11, and the championship games will be on Dec. 15 and 16. The extra week comes from the elimination of one of the two preseason scrimmage games.
And Thomson's 2002 championship game at the Brickyard may be one of the last. A change for next year is championship games will be played at neutral sights for fairness and to ensure that the stadium can handle the crowd.