Watch out college basketball, prep football Midnight Madness is spreading like wildfire

Cameron Smith

The term Midnight Madness immediately evokes images of basketball season. The phrase was coined to classify a rather bizarre practice of kicking off basketball practices in the middle of the night, rallying college campuses across the country behind the teams in a ceremony of sheer hoopla that distracts teens and 20-somethings from their studying for hours. It's a fabulous tradition.

Yet Midnight Madness is being co-opted by another powerful group: high school football coaches. Borrowing the general concept from their collegiate basketball brethren, high school football coaches have begun holding "Midnight Madness" workouts on the Sunday night before they are allowed to officially begin practicing.

Unsurprisingly, the tactic appears to be gaining the most traction in Texas, a land so beholden to football that it will happily stay up in the middle of the summer on a Sunday night just to watch teenagers practice.

"It's something new, it’s something different, it gets the kids and the community excited," Prosper (Texas) High football coach Kent Scott told the Dallas Morning News. "I did it in a little South Plains town [Ralls], which wasn’t doing well. I do think it sets an underlying message that we’re ready to go to work."

The general format for the Midnight Madness practices runs thus: Schools set up football-themed activities and family-friendly attractions like bouncy castles beginning at 9 or 10 p.m. on the Sunday evening before practices are allowed to begin. Up until 11 p.m. players and families mill together. Then teams file in to the locker room, get a pre-practice pep talk from coaches and suit up.

At precisely 12:01 a.m. on Monday morning the team hits the field and starts its first practice, typically running through a paper sign or inflatable tunnel just as they do for regular season games.

According to the Morning News, the celebratory first practice has been used for as many as five seasons by some schools and is quickly gaining traction throughout the region.

The new tradition has picked up steam in other Southern states, too, with a number of schools in Georgia and at least one in Florida also hosting Midnight Madness events. Kentucky schools are getting in on the act, too.

While the timing of the first practices may seem odd, the late night kickoff does provide some health benefits, too. In Southern states where the heat and humidity can provide a genuine risk beyond simple nuisance, practicing at night can be the difference between heat stroke and thoroughly completed drills.

Yet all health benefits aside, the real push behind the growing number of Midnight Madness events comes from coaches who are trying to shake the rust off their programs following a long offseason with a bit of excitement.

"It's a message to our kids that we’re going to try to outwork the competition," Adairsville (Ga.) High football coach Eric Bishop told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We can't practice more than anybody [GHSA rules prevent that], but we can practice before anybody."

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