Texas is in the midst of a serious drought, the likes of which even the Lone Star State has rarely seen before. While the lack of rain has brought a host of public health concerns (many parts of the state are expected to host high temperatures of at least 105 for the next fortnight), it is also causing major issues for high school football teams preparing to return to two-a-day practices in the coming weeks.
No, we're not talking about the everpresent concern about heat stroke. We're talking about issues with rock-hard fields, surfaces which could make any contact very, very dangerous. According to the Houston Chronicle, the fields at a number of Houston-area schools are so bad that coaches are already taking measures to set up fallback sites if their traditional practice fields are too tough to hold any practices at all.
"We can't run the risk of kids getting tackled on hard pavement, or they'll tear up knees, shoulders and elbows," new Sterling (Texas) High coach Eddie Chinea told the Chronicle. "If you hurt your kids now, they won't be ready for the opening of the season."
For Chinea, the need for better grass coverage on his school's field has led to drastic measures. In the middle of their summer vacation, a number of Sterling's players have helped fertilize and water the dirt patch that was in dire condition at the end of the 2011 Spring semester.
With the help of the Houston Independent School District, Chinea's field might be playable come the start of training camp. Still, the coach said he is ready to pull the plug on all contact whenever he needs to.
Chinea is not alone, either. Deer Park (Texas) coach Chris Massey was so concerned after watching a middle school camp on his team's fields that he set aside the school's artificial turf venue as a possible site for his team's training camp if the field can't rebound in time to host the Deer.
"Our folks have done as good a job as you can ask to keep it going, but there is no substitute for the rain," Massey said. "It's just not as thick and lush as you'd like it. (Our field) is all covered, but I think as we start practicing on it, it will wear pretty fast, and it could start getting down to dirt. And that's not a good condition to practice in."
Like Chinea, other Texas coaches don't have such luxurious facilities to fall back on, making the need for better grass coverage even more acute.
Trying to help grow that additional grass has raised other issues, as well: While heat and ongoing shortages have raised the specter of water rationing in some cities (Houston included), coaches have resorted to old fashioned water saturation, sometimes using hoses on their school's fields for as long as three or four hours at a time.
Naturally, that only makes the ongoing water shortages all the more intense, pushing along a cycle that will likely only be salved by a good, old-fashioned downpour.
"Pray for rain," Houston Public Works spokesman Alvin Wright told the Chronicle. "Pray for steady rain that doesn't cause flooding."