Amendment outlawing use of helmets and shoulder pads in offseason stirs debate
Change intended to reduce hits, but football coaches insist it may increase the number of injuries.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Butch Goncharoff doesn't care how long someone has been playing football. Bellevue's head coach doesn't care how many varsity games someone has played. He doesn't care how talented a player is.
During spring practices every season, he watches player after player drop their heads while trying to make tackles.
"He has bad technique," Goncharoff said. "It's just a natural deal. I don't care if he's the best tackler in the world. It's like hitting a golf ball, but you're hitting people. There is a teaching technique to it, and you can't do that without helmets and shoulder pads."
For Goncharoff, and coaches around the state, spring practices are a time to teach fundamentals, a progression that leads to blocking and tackling. But a proposed rules amendment would eliminate the use of helmets and shoulder pads outside the regular season.
The idea is to reduce injuries, but football coaches believe it might do the opposite. Amendment 6, which will be discussed Monday at a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) meeting and voted on in April, isn't expected to pass, but the debate has coaches lining up against it.
"We need to try to find a way to reduce the number of hits kids are taking," said Robert Polk, athletic director for the Everett School District who proposed the amendment. "That's why the proposal is out there."
Mat Taylor of Skyline High School in Sammamish is one of many coaches unhappy with the amendment.
"I just don't think it was well thought out," Taylor said. "I think there are good intentions behind it, but to blanket it and say you're going to take away all football equipment throughout the summer, I don't think it's in the best interest of Washington football."
Lakewood High coach Dan Teeter started a petition against the amendment and has gathered signatures from 66 current and former head coaches and 86 assistant coaches.
"It's trying to protect kids, which everybody is obviously for," Teeter said. "But the way it's written, it's going to ban the use of helmets."
Teeter runs a 20-team passing tournament in the summer. Players wear helmets as a precaution, even though it's a non-contact event.
All of the coaches interviewed by The Seattle Times were in favor of rules changes to regulate offseason contact by limiting the number of practices, but believe this amendment will lead to a spike in injuries.
"I think you're going to see more injuries than you've ever seen before," Goncharoff said.
Polk believes coaches can teach proper technique without helmets and shoulder pads.
"It used to be that football programs ran non-padded practices and had non-padded camps and still created competitive kids and competitive athletes," said Polk, who added that's the way he learned. "I know that's years ago, but that's how it used to be. I believe that kids can still learn the proper techniques without pads."
The WIAA handbook was changed in the 1994-95 school year to allow school districts to dictate when school equipment could be used. Helmets and shoulder pads were addressed in 2006-07.
"If they (coaches) have better ideas, I'm all ears," Polk said. "I just really believe that this is a conversation that needs to take place. And we need to find a way to manage it so our kids stay safe."
Coaches are anxiously awaiting the outcome.
"The good programs, you teach a progression," Taylor said. "You're not going out there and beating each other up. You're teaching all the fundamentals and, in football, you need equipment. You need helmets and shoulder pads to play the game."
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org