Staff writer Jeff Huth says ... Yes, but here's a compromise
On Jan. 11, Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, introduced a bill that would permit local school boards to waive an IHSA requirement on mandatory football practices. Currently, the IHSA mandates that a student-athlete participate in a minimum of 12 practices before being allowed to play in his or her first football game of a season. At issue is whether this rule should be applied to a student-athlete just returned from military training. Such a case arose last August, when the IHSA denied a waiver to then-senior Eddie Nuss of Paxton-Buckley-Loda. Nuss returned from Army basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., one week before the Panthers' season opener, and was forced to sit out the first game.
The IHSA rule was implemented for safety reasons — to ensure that football players are properly conditioned before being allowed to play. Cultra and others argue that allowances should be made in cases like that of Nuss, who had just gone through rigorous physical training. But IHSA executive director Marty Hickman counters that his organization's sports medicine committee contends that "being in shape and being in football shape are two different things." Left unsaid, but surely part of the equation, is the IHSA's fear of liability.
At its heart, the IHSA's concerns are valid and understandable. According to one study, 38 U.S. high school football players have died from heat-related illnesses since 2000, including five in 2011. It's also understandable that Nuss and others in his circumstance would argue that they already are fit to play.
Here's my suggestion: put the decision in the hands of a neutral third party: a sports-medicine specialist who would assess the student-athlete's fitness and then make a binding decision. If money's an issue, let the state foot the bill. At this point, what's one more budget line for hopelessly-in-debt Illinois.