Safety in all levels of football continues to have momentum, and this week’s start of high school scrimmages will be another reminder.
Each August prior to these tussles, officials huddle with the teams and discuss the rules changes or points of emphasis. Two will be distinguishable to fans, says Neil Buie, a regional supervisor with the Southeastern Athletic Officials Association.
“Previously, if there was a penalty for failure to wear proper equipment, in other words a player didn’t have his mouthpiece in when the snap was imminent, or a wide receiver didn’t have his pants over knees, the official would throw a flag and stop play and a 5-yard penalty would be imposed on the offending team,” Buie said. “This year, there is no longer a penalty enforced. It’s stop play and the player is removed for at least one play.”
The other change is within the kicking game, an area of play that has undergone a lot of tweaks in recent years stemming mostly from ways to help prevent concussions.
“When the kicking team had an infraction during the kicks, previously if the receiving team was going to accept the penalty, it would be imposed from the previous spot and there would be a rekick,” Buie said. “No longer. Now the offended team has the option of tacking on whatever the penalty was to the end of the play.
“That’s a safety rule. A significant number of injuries occur during kicking plays, the same as in college and pros. Everybody gets a head start and they’re running wide open and there’s a helluva collision there. That’s an injury, or safety, change.”
Buie, a 71-year-old starting his 51st year in the ranks of high school officiating, thinks the change is good and will be well-received.
Otherwise, fans are not likely to notice many changes. Buie, part of an organization that provides officials in Bladen, Sampson, Robeson, Richmond, Scotland, Cumberland, Moore, Hoke and Columbus counties, said there is a terminology change for the passer.
He’s now considered a “defenseless player until he’s thrown the ball,” Buie said. “That’s a fairly new term, basically a new terminology.”
Fans have often heard that term when in reference to wide receivers.
“The national federation and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association continue to emphasize safety,” Buie said. “They’ve put in rules about targeting, spearing or leading with the head, blindside blocks — in other words, any player being blocked has to see the block coming, unless the blocker blocks with his open hands.
“Any safety rule is a point of emphasis almost every year now.”
Both Bladen schools will be scrimmaging twice this week, weather permitting.
Wednesday night, East Bladen is part of a multiple team scrimmage event at Wallace-Rose Hill starting at 6 p.m. On Thursday night, the Eagles go to Lumberton High School for the Battle of the Carolinas, facing Pernell Sweet at 7 p.m. Tickets for that event featuring eight teams from North and South Carolina are $5 in advance at East Bladen’s main office, or $7 at the gate.
West Bladen goes to Gray’s Creek on Thursday, facing Jack Britt in the Cumberland County Jamboree at 6 p.m. The Knights will scrimmage Harrells Christian at home on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Buie said the Lumberton event is beneficial to players and referees in particular because of its format. The teams are usually fairly strong as well.
“That’s the best scrimmage in the area,” he said. “A lot only play half the field, 10 plays, and when there’s a turnover you start over. At Lumberton, they play 20 minutes of game-type scrimmage, full field, take a halftime, then play another 20 minutes, all running clock.
“They get more out of it than this half the field stuff. And they’ve got good teams. My officials get more out of it doing it that way, too. They don’t have coaches on the field, and its more game-type situation.”
Alan Wooten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-247-9132.