For high school athletes in the state of Ohio, summer vacation is just about over.
Aug. 1 marks opening day for practice for fall Ohio High School Athletic Association sports.
That means lots of running, jumping, sliding and sweating for local athletes. In fact, it means lots of sweating in sun-baked fields and, for volleyball players, stuffy gymnasiums.
This is one case where cross-country runners might have the advantage. They get to run in the shade every so often.
Like most back to school routines, I can understand why student-athletes greet August with a mix of excitement and dread.
The excitement is self-explanatory: Despite all the changes in recent years, for many students, sports still provide the most memorable and enjoyable parts of their high school experience.
The dread also is easy to comprehend: Even for the most enthusiastic, well-conditioned athlete, practices in early August tend to produce groans along with gains.
Most high school football teams seem to practice in T-shirts with simple motivational phrases like "Enjoy the Process" or "Embrace the Grind."
Nice sentiment, but such platitudes overlook one big thing.
That big thing is: When wearing full pads and facing 20 wind sprints to end a two-hour practice under a roasting August sun, every single teenager is going to ask themselves "What the heck am I doing here?"
This is not to tell any young readers that abandoning practice is a good idea. It’s just to acknowledge one simple fact: Practice often stinks.
Remember, though, literally millions of players have gotten through two-a-days, so you can as well.
Also, as bad as practice can be, the days of coaches working their players hard enough to "weed out the weak links" are over.
Talking to some of my local football coaches, I’m surprised to see some programs are limiting their two-a-days (two practices one day followed by one the next) or eliminating two-a-day practices all together.
Some of this might have to do with the fact that, where in years past, football teams might have three weeks to prepare for the season, they have a full month this year. Practice opens Aug. 1, while opening night for most teams is Aug. 30.
Another thing for players to remember: Practice might be lousy, but nearly all programs make substantial efforts to keep "lousy" from becoming "dangerous."
For staters, the OHSAA now mandates that athletic trainers be available for practices and that all coaches undergo training for knowing how to deal with injuries and illness.
At the top of of those concerns is the potential for heat illness.
The OHSAA takes heat issues seriously. It’s the reason why every team starts with two days in helmets and shorts, two days in shoulder pads and helmets and one day in full pads without contact.
This heat acclamation process has been shown to reduce heat illness, which has probably saved lives.
If things get out of control heat-wise — like they did over the weekend of July 19 to 21 — OHSAA dictates coaches are to stop practice and/or games.
Also, OHSAA members are mandated to provide unlimited water and/or sports drinks to all athletes.
I’m old enough to remember when Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer died of heat stoke in 2001. Thankfully, there haven’t been any more NFL deaths due to heat since, but every year seems to bring a tickle of news about young athletes dying due to heat illness.
While coaches and trainers play a big role, it’s ultimately up to the players. My quick advice: When in doubt, drink more water.
For those wanting more precise hydration guidelines, check out the OHSAA’s web site at www.ohsaa.org/heatillness.
I preach this because I had my own bout of heat illness when I visited Washington, D.C., about a decade ago — and was wearing much less than full football gear. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I would hate to see any young athlete go through it.
Given all this, local athletes should know their coaches and trainers have their back.
Of course, knowing that won’t make any of those wind sprints, extra laps, suicide drills or other extra cardio work more palatable.
Keep in mind, though, you won’t remember all of that. You’ll remember what happened under the lights at game time.
It’s a natural thing that happens to all athletes.
Remember, lousy practices are the cost every athlete pays to be ready for when it counts.
So, football players: Grin and bear it, try to keep your sense of humor, try to get better with every practice — and keep your focus on Week 1.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO