BY JIM SCHILTZ
Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk football coach Gary VanDerzee has never hesitated to pull a player off the field after they were penalized for an illegal hit.
Star athlete or second-stringer, close game or not, it’s never mattered to one of Section II’s most respected and successful mentors.
“Any time something happens like that, I take the kid out and address that,” said VanDerzee, who also serves as the football coordinator for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
By the 2018 season taking a penalized player off the field may not be an option for head coaches in Section II.
A mandatory player “time out” after an illegal hit is one aspect of the Tommy Tough Football Safety Standards that the NYSPHSAA’s Central Committee approved last month at its annual meeting. The package of standards are in part aimed to minimize the risk of injury, and apply to all levels of the high school game.
“The NYSPHSAA voted to recommend Tommy Tough to start this year,” Bob Dorrance, the Section II football coordinator, said. “It is not mandatory. Each section can adopt parts of it or all of it or none of it. The guys in Section II are receptive to it, but at this point it’s a matter of brain storming. How are we going to implement it?”
According to Robert Zayas, the executive director of the NYSPHSAA, “The Tommy Tough standards … are being ‘endorsed’ by NYSPHSAA. Sections still have to approve them for implementation in their sections for regular season/sectional play.
“The standards will be used for all regional and state finals.”
Dorrance said Section II coaches, athletic directors and game officials were not comfortable adopting the standards so quickly after their July 27 approval. Fall sports practice for Section II begins next Monday. The football season opens Sept. 1-2.
“We want to make sure we implement it and do it correctly and consistently across the section,” Dorrance said. “We’re going to talk about it. It’s a big process. We understand the game is evolving and this is a step in the right direction. Probably some form of Tommy Tough will be in Section II in 2018 I’m thinking.”
Dorrance, a longtime Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk assistant coach, said the Section II football folks will meet just before the playoffs begin in October, and again at the end of November and December, and in either late January or early February.
“A lot of the things in it [the standards], people in Section II are already doing,” VanDerzee said. “With the latest studies [about concussions], anything that helps put a positive spin on the sport is good.”
Long Island’s Section XIII and Section XI adopted the Tommy Tough Football Safety Standards for the 2016 season and a full list of them can be found on the Section XI [Suffolk County) athletic website. They are named in honor of Shoreham-Wading River student-athlete Thomas Cutinella, who, in his junior year in 2014, suffered a fatal head injury while playing the game.
“They [the Long Island sections] accepted it overwhelmingly,” VanDerzee said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive comments.”
There are no football rule changes involved in the standards other than the removal of a player for at least one play should they be penalized for targeting, illegal helmet contact (butt blocking, face tackling and spearing) or a defenseless player hit.
“There will be opportunities for teaching moments,” VanDerzee said of players being removed from games. “It’s still high school football and we are an extension of the classroom.”
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations ,targeting is an act of taking aim and initiating contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders. Butt blocking is an act by an offensive or defensive player who initiates contact against an opponent who is not the ball carrier with the front of his helmet. Face tackling is an act by a defensive player who initiates contact with a ball carrier with the front of his helmet. Spearing is an act by any player who initiates contact against an opponent at the shoulders or below with the crown (top portion) of the helmet.
“Long Island followed it to the letter. That’s where it was developed,” Dorrance said. “Helmet-to-helmet fouls and taking a kid our for one play, we’re not going to adopt that at this point. The recommendation came so late.”
As part of the standards, officials give a mandatory safety statement to all players before games that reads: “In an effort to minimize risks to you and your opponent, helmets are not to be considered weapons and are not be used as weapons. Helmets are not to be intentionally used to initiate illegal helmet contact against an opponent, such as spearing, targeting, butt blocking and face tackling.”
“We go over these things all the time,” VanDerzee said. “The officials’ statement is a good reminder to the players.”
In May of 2016 the NYSPHSAA endorsed USA Football’s Heads Up Coaching Education Program which instructs coaches in player safety and has a big emphasis on proper tackling and blocking techniques.