During my senior year of high school football at Lawton Eisenhower, I came close to dying. Or at least I thought I was.
It was after a early morning practice and my entire body started to cramp up. Every time I made the slightest move, some muscle would react in a negative and painful way.
When I went to the hospital I found out that I had experienced kidney failure. It’s not something a teenager wants to hear before his final year of high school.
However, despite the intense pain and possible long term complications, no one knew how happy I was it had occurred. That’s because the only remedy was to drink plenty of fluids and bed rest for week. That meant missing two-a-days for the first time since fifth grade. I was in paradise.
For those who have never been through two-a-day football practice in the state of Oklahoma, what I’m saying may sound morbid. That’s because you never had to run around in 105 degree heat, in full pads, hitting volatile young men over and over. Not once, but twice a day for two to three weeks before school started up.
The two-a-day schedule was simple. Players would roll onto the field as early as 7 a.m., put in work for a few hours, go home and rest and then come back and do it all over again in the afternoon or evening. It was a rite of passage, from junior high all the way through the professional ranks.
But somewhere along the way, prep coaches dropped the tradition in favor of one lone practice due to health concerns. In 2008, four high school players died from heatstroke according to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research.
Today’s coaches will tell you that it’s also just convenient to go to one practice with kids having to work and family obligations.
“The first year I coached (1993), we did two-a-days,” Southmoore coach Chris Jensen said. “Since then, I never have. It is easier to have kids there for one extended practice rather than trying to get them to come back for two.”
Limiting the schedule to one practice also makes it easier on parents.
“I would say the biggest benefit would be once you get the players at practice you don’t have to worry about getting them back the second time,” Westmoore coach Billy Langford said. “It makes travel arrangements for parents easier. You only have to get them to practice and pick up one time.”
I may have just gotten to the age where I believe everything was tougher when I was growing up, but I believe teams and players miss out on going through two-a-days. Having to gear up for a full morning practice, then find a way to do it again that evening took inner strength and passion for the game.
But Moore’s coach Scott Myers said “It’s more beneficial for all involved to do one long period with breaks built in. And that’s the way the teams he has coached have done it since the early 1990s
“One of the biggest is the players recover quicker,” Myers said. “They get to be done early in the afternoon and not have to come back until the next day. Coaches get to plan better for the next day because they are working on the next day’s practice in the afternoon instead of at 10 p.m. at night if you didn’t finish until 9 p.m. with an evening workout.”
As one assistant coach told me, players put in so much work during the offseason that there is no need to have two-a-days.
“I’m sure you can still find schools out there doing it,” Jensen said. “As much time as we get in spring football and team camp, we’re a lot further ahead and feel like we can implement what we need to with a shorter schedule.”
Maybe time has just passed me by in some respects. As much I hated going through two-a-days, I knew it was needed. It was surviving those hot summer days where a team’s character was molded. I knew I could count on the man next to me because he was willing to go through the Hades of two-a-days to win. That’s one of the reasons college and pro teams continue it today.
But times change. If you can win games and titles doing it a different way, that is what matters.
“Last year, we started school two days after practice started, so we didn’t even do the extended practice we have in the past,” Jensen said. “We went straight into a normal practice schedule and it worked for us.”
Time always brings about change, so this is nothing new. It just has me wondering what will be the next thing to disappear. Hopefully, not the qualities that have made it a gladiator sport for today’s man.
“Anyone that tells you they enjoyed two-a-days, they’re lying or insane,” former NFL player Bill Curry, told CNN. “We felt like it was a condition of employment. You’re not going to be tough or great unless we did it. It was a macho gladiator thing. We just sucked it up.”
Michael Kinney 366-3537 firstname.lastname@example.org