While most high school football players are counting down the days — either with anticipation or dread — until the start of practice on Aug. 7, the players in the Oklahoma City Public Schools have a roadblock standing between them and football.
For them, school starts Wednesday.
For the second year, OKCPS is utilizing the continuous learning academic calendar districtwide.
While there is the potential for great academic advantages in year-round school, its impact on football is a little different. But after a year to test it out, most coaches in the district are looking forward to it again this year.
The only significant drawback is the heat.
With school all day, teams end up practicing in the middle of the afternoon, during the hottest part of the day. Meanwhile, other schools are holding their workouts in the early morning or evening to avoid triple-digit temperatures.
“The biggest concern we hear from coaches is not having the flexibility in scheduling practices to get out of the heat,” district athletic director Keith Sinor said. “Everybody's battling the same things, but we have to make sure that we provide as much water supply and any shade that we can. It's hard to compete against 108 degrees.”
The OKCPS teams have the option to practice in the evening, but many of the players don't have transportation readily available to get them back to the school later in the day, so participation stays higher at afternoon practices.
Because of that, the coaches and administrators take extra precautions to deal with the heat.
“Mr. Sinor has given us all the stuff we need to make sure we're keeping the kids hydrated,” John Marshall coach Bruce Troxell said. “We've gone to camps this month, and you spend three hours out in it. And we have this first week of school to do our conditioning in the heat so that we're better adapted to it.
“Even though we're out there in the 2 p.m. heat, we're better set up to handle it and make sure the kids are taken care of.”
Of course, dodging the heat hasn't always been the focus of some programs. Douglass coach Willis Alexander began practicing at 3 p.m., even before the district changed the school calendar.
“Our worst practice always used to be on the first day of school, because it took the kids some time to get adjusted to the heat,” he said. “So we started practicing at 3 p.m. anyway, and the kids have been able to adapt to it a lot quicker, and it has really helped us.”
Beyond the heat and its associated dangers, there aren't many negatives of the new calendar from the coaches' viewpoint.
Not only do the players get a week of conditioning after school, but it also gives coaches a week to get all physical exams done, pass out equipment, and complete any number of other menial tasks that would otherwise take time away from actual practices.
“You have your new kids show up on Aug. 1, and you can get them oriented into the program, let them adapt to the system, during that first week of school,” Troxell said. “You can have them get physicals and fill out the new student forms and all that.
“I don't see any negatives to the schedule. Going into year two, we understand everything that's going on. Our schedule will be set up better than it was going through it the first time. Football-wise, it's a win-win.”