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Column: Can we take some daytime heat off ‘fall’ high school sports in Utah?

By Patrick Carr - Prep Sports Reporter | Jul 1, 2022

PATRICK CARR, Standard-Examiner

Weber High soccer player Olivia Hemming (center) kicks the ball while being watched by two Fremont High players during a game on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 at Fremont High School.

The weather is hot, the sun is high, the water is a nice temperature even if lake levels in the state are low, and the Ogden Raptors are probably in town.

So naturally, with all the fun stuff happening in the summer, we think of fall high school sports and the upcoming season.

Don’t look now, but Aug. 1 is fast approaching. Not only is rent due that day, but Aug. 1 is the first day of the 2022-23 high school sports season with girls soccer and 2A/1A baseball teams able to play their first games.

I’m going to sound like a wistful old person here, but the first day of the prep sports season keeps getting earlier and earlier.

If the trend continues, we’ll start prep sports in July of next year, all while more summer days reach into the high 90s and more of them are inundated with wildfire smoke.

For the sake of girls soccer players, their melted cleats, their parents and everyone else hiding under a tree or a Kirkland umbrella at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, we need to change something about the high school sports calendar in August.

Not to get picky with words like the comedian George Carlin used to do, but we call it “fall sports” when in reality, more than half of the season happens before the fall equinox on Sept. 22.

Games were already hot enough when they were played at 3:30 p.m. on grass fields. Thanks to the drought, most schools can’t water their grass fields as much as they’d like, so soccer teams play a lot of their games on much hotter artificial turf fields instead.

Water breaks do happen halfway through the first and second halves of soccer games if it’s too hot out. And this year, the UHSAA is sending out wet globe bulbs to help schools determine whether it’s safe enough for outdoor practices and such (the NFHS Foundation is buying the units and sending them to states).

While both are good ideas, they don’t address the root cause of the problem, which is A) it’s very hot in early-to-mid August and B) we’re playing soccer and football games on artificial turf fields, which are the equivalent of urban strips of lava in the sunny hours.

One of two things needs to happen: move the 3:30 p.m. varsity soccer kickoffs to 5:30 or later (with JV games to follow), or start the high school sports season (all of it, not just soccer) in mid-August instead of early August.

On the first topic, individual regions control the kickoff times so that’s where any decision would need to be made. I’m sure working parents won’t mind if their daughter’s soccer game starts at 5:30 instead of 3:30.

Also, you’ll have less of a referee shortage since 3:30 p.m. start times are a non-starter, no pun intended, for many current and potential refs.

We already have soccer games at 5:30 anyway and they’re JV games. Why not play at 5:30 and 7:30 when the temperature is starting to cool down instead of heating up?

It’s too hot for girls soccer games at 3:30 p.m. on artificial turf now. Plain and simple. Unless we get a reliable monsoon every year to drown everyone’s grass soccer fields so teams can play on grass instead of turf, the reality is turf is the home field now.

Look at the high schools in St. George. It’s about 8-10 degrees warmer down there than it is on the Wasatch Front and their girls soccer teams play at 7 or 7:30 p.m. the first part of the season (sometimes even 9 a.m. on Saturdays).

One downside is it makes athletic directors and/or administrators stay at school later (and since some fans can’t behave anymore, somebody does need to be at games in case a situation needs defusing).

One solution: hire some help, whether that’s bringing in a part-time athletic director or making the current AD full-time, or both. We’re headed that direction anyway with the number of new sports that have been sanctioned by the UHSAA Board of Trustees in recent years.

On the topic of changing the high school sports calendar and starting girls soccer season one or two weeks later, historical average high temperatures are slightly cooler in Ogden and the surrounding metro area on Aug. 15 than Aug 1.

There would be the added benefit of not starting soccer games until one or two weeks before school starts, instead of starting three or four weeks before school starts (Ogden, Weber, Davis and Box Elder School Districts start school on or between Aug. 19-29 this year).

You’d also get football games starting later in the year and aligning more with when students are in school instead of, like in the Box Elder district’s case, having football games on Aug. 12 when the first day of school isn’t until Aug. 29.

Counter-point: the fall sports season then needs to go one or two weeks later — deeper into November and possibly December in order to finish — and it would cross over with winter sports.

Counter to the counter-point: at last year’s 3A girls soccer title game, it was cold and rainy. The 2020 3A girls soccer title game was played in sub-freezing weather. The 2017 Orem-Mountain Crest football state title game was played in a snowstorm.

If it’s colder weather we’re worried about, we’re already there in mid-to-late October anyway. What’s a week or two later going to do?

On the topic of a sports season crossover, as far as the 2022-23 sports calendar is set up right now, there would be 10 football games that would get pushed into the winter sports season, which begins the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That’s about as minimally invasive as a correctly used Q-tip.

In all honesty, winter sports could do with starting the week after Thanksgiving anyway since the only days of Thanksgiving week that teams are allowed to play games are Tuesday and Wednesday.

From there, you probably don’t even need to mess around with the end dates of winter sports and the start dates of spring sports, though, in another concurring opinion, spring sports start too early and it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to move the end date for spring sports to the week of Memorial Day instead of before Memorial Day.

This year, high school soccer is starting Monday, Aug. 1 — that’s one month from now — and high school football is starting Thursday, Aug. 11. The former is probably the earliest girls soccer start date in state history and the latter is definitely the earliest start date.

Changing the high school sports calendar is something that rests with the UHSAA and would require approval by its board.

In the first couple weeks of August, Ogden and Salt Lake City’s average daytime high temperatures are well into the mid-to-high 90s, according to NOAA data. By the time it’s late August, it’s more like mid-to-low 90s.

Let’s take some of the heat off of “fall” sports in August however we can.

Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at pcarr@standard.net, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.

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