CIAC Football Contact Changes Highlight Safety & Collaboration

CHESHIRE, Conn. – Connecticut high school football is now in its fourth week of competition under new contact rules aimed at enhancing student-athlete safety.  At its spring meeting, the CIAC Football Committee unanimously approved a proposal put forward by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) to reduce the amount of full contact practice time for both the fall and spring seasons. The approved policy went to effect at the onset of the 2019 football preseason and is expected to reduce student-athlete exposures to concussion.

“I am proud of the collaborative effort between the CHSCA, CIAC, CAAD and legislators who continually prioritize the safety of our student-athletes,” CAS-CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini stated. “Connecticut legislation emphasizes best practices around concussion prevention, and our state athletic organizations continue to recognize the importance of that focus.  This change demonstrates a commitment from all high school athletic stakeholders to act in the best interest of our kids.”

The rules adopted this fall reduces the current allowance of full contact practice time by 50-percent during the fall season, and from 120 to 90 minutes during the spring practice season. The proposal, presented by the CHSCA, with approval from its Executive Board, reinforces student-athlete safety by minimizing exposures to injuries.

“As football coaches, we are concerned with the overall decline of athletes playing the game,” explained Harry Bellucci, Harford Public head football coach and CIAC Football Committee representative. “Besides injury reduction in practice we wanted to show parents that, as football coaches, we too are concerned for your child’s overall safety. This was part of the genesis of our thought process to halt the decline in participation numbers in this great game.”

Discussions between the CHSCA and CIAC on potential contact rule changes began in the fall of 2018, spurred by a presentation from the organization “Practice Like Pros.”  Leadership from the CIAC, CHSCA, Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors (CAAD), and several Connecticut legislative leaders including Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, and Representative Nicole Klarides-Ditria participated in discussions about the “Practice Like Pros” concept. Subsequent presentations from the organization – whose mission is to reduce needless injury in football by teaching strategies that reduce full contact – to the CIAC Football Committee and additional CHSCA representatives led to the CHSCA’s formal proposal.

A CIAC survey of football coaches and athletic directors indicated that both groups strongly supported the CHSCA proposal, which reflects best practices in football participation safety.

“With the advancement of science, we are learning more and more about how to better protect all athletes during games and practice,” said Rep. Klarides-Ditria. “We are seeing a growing trend of states and coaches that are reducing the amount of contact during practice and I am glad that Connecticut and the CIAC Football Committee are moving in that direction. I understand that football is a collision sport but it doesn’t mean that it should be a dangerous sport. We will continue to find smart ways to make it a safe sport for all athletes.”

“As players and coaches we all have a love for this wonderful game, and at the same time recognize that student safety has to be a top priority for everyone involved,” said Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin/Southington) and head football coach at Berlin High School. “Reduced practice contact rules were recommended by the coaches themselves and are an important step in helping to meet this ongoing challenge. As a coach, I am already seeing the benefits from both a player safety standpoint, and the ability to spend more time developing skills through a focus on proper technique and strategy.”

“Any effort to safeguard our student athletes from future harm is a proactive step worth taking.  Working to help reduce contact time for football players during weekly practices will ensure that their overall health and development are at the forefront of their scholastic and athletic endeavors. I am happy to see Connecticut and the CIAC Football Committee move in this direction,” said House Republican Leader Themis Klarides.

Adoption of these new contact policies builds upon the collaborative work conducted in 2015 between the Connecticut State Medical Society Sports Medicine Committee and the CIAC Football Committee.  That collaboration resulted in adoption of a football safety rule which requires a gradual decrease in full contact time as the season progresses, as well as a mandatory bye week for all teams. Additionally, prior to the 2017 season, collaboration between these two committees resulted in a policy that limits athletes to a maximum of six quarters of participation per week.

“We (the Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS) Sports Medicine Committee) work closely with CIAC to support a climate of safety for our student athletes,” said CSMS Sports Medicine Committee Chair, Stephanie Arlis-Mayor, MD. “We were very happy to hear that the collaborative proposal of CHSCA and CIAC to reduce the amount of full contact practice time for football was approved. It allows for our student athletes to learn the wonderful sport of football while continuing to emphasize safety.”

“With the recognition that continuing to be aware of best practices is now a crucial part of the education process, it’s commendable that the coaches put this proposal forward and the athletic directors were happy to support it and help it progress to being implemented,” said CAAD Executive Director Fred Balsamo.

The approved policies implemented in 2019 account for student athlete safety in football and align with Connecticut’s Public Act. 14-66, an Act Concerning Youth Athletics and Concussions, which requires annual concussion management updates for football coaches based on current best practices.  As participation in high school football declines across the country, the CIAC, CAAD, and CHSCA continue to work collaboratively with legislators and the Connecticut State Medical Society Sports Medicine Committee to counter this trend by proactively implementing measure to enhance student athlete safety.

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