Bold move for Fresno Unified in football: No offseason full contact

Bullard’s head coach Donnie Arax, center, greets the Central High coaching staff midfield after a scrimmage game against Central High at Central High on Friday night, August 17, 2012, in Fresno. (ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE)

In the most progressive move yet in the north Valley to reduce football injuries — specifically concussions — the Fresno Unified School District on Tuesday adopted a policy to prohibit full contact in the offseason.

That means no tackle in pads will be allowed outside of August, when practice begins, through the teams’ final games of the season, in November or December.

Offseason tackle in gear is commonplace at the high school level in summer camps and scrimmages.

“It’s tough for me to make this concession because I’m a dinosaur, we hit more than any team in the area and I’m going to miss it,” Bullard coach Donnie Arax says. “But I think it’s a smart move because this concussion issue isn’t going away. This is a great sport and we’ve got to establish measures to keep it so we don’t start losing kids. Parents in suburban schools are not going to let their kids play football if we don’t make changes.”


Bullard athletic director Doug Finks says Fresno Unified is following the lead of the Kern County School District, which has had the policy in place for several years.

“The repetitive pounding of helmet to helmet doesn’t make sense,” Finks says. “We’re not going to eliminate concussions from football, but we really can control the repetitive pounding that makes those kids punch drunk.

“I think we’re ahead of the game. It’s not good for kids to hit year-round; it’s unsafe for them. This is a really good idea and I think it’s going to gain traction statewide, to be honest.”

Clovis Unified, the Central’s Section’s most powerful athletic district, has no plans to follow suit.

“We limited our programs to two weeks of full contact camps in the summer a couple years ago,” Clovis Unified athletic director Steve France says.

Clovis West coach Mike Parsons is torn: “We always get three or four guys hurt in camps, so this is exactly what my staff is debating: Do we want full contact camps or go to 7-on-7 passing leagues and weight room only to stay healthy and fresh?”

And Clovis coach Rich Hammond hasn’t made summer plans: “At this point, I’m still in the process of what to do. We’ve already been pretty limited (to summer full contact) compared to everybody else.”

At the section level, commissioner Jim Crichlow says there’s movement toward limiting full contact to one week, including 20 hours, in the summer.

He says the Board of Managers, which establishes all section policies, will discuss the issue next week and vote in May.