For many young people around the Copper Country, this week marks the beginning of the end of the summer, if not the outright end.
Fall practice is now underway across the prep sports spectrum, and though the volleyball tournaments that typically mark the first competition of 2014-15 are still more than a week away, the time has come for season previews and preseason scrimmages.
Before that, a few things to remember before you head out to the field, court or trail of your choice.
As mentioned in Tuesday's Daily Mining Gazette, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has implemented several changes in the way football practices are administered.
Specifically, teams are no longer allowed to have more than five hours of practice in a single day or three hours in a single practice, and only one practice session per day is allowed to be a 'collision' practice, that is, one with full-speed contact in pads.
Once the season begins, teams may not conduct more than two collision practices in a week.
Only one weekend of the 2014 prep football season precedes Labor Day (Sept. 1) this season, which means the first four games of the year involving local teams are on Thursday, Aug. 28. Among them will be the first game played at the new field behind L'Anse High School, as the Purple Hornets host Houghton. In Hancock, football alumni are planning a reunion for the season opener against the Gogebic Miners at McAfee Field. In addition to raising funds for the Bulldog program, Hancock's five unbeaten, untied teams (1944, 1961, 1967, 1983, 1984) will be recognized during the event. Oh, and in Calumet, the Copper Kings will be at home trying to start a comeback season against a Northland Pines team that has reached the Wisconsin playoffs the last four consecutive seasons.
The only local teams that won't start on Thursday are going to be in Lake Linden on Saturday (Aug. 30): Baraga against the host Lakes.
As far as changes in scheduling, the biggest shift is that Ontonagon will be playing 8-man for the first time in school history. The Gladiators' withdrawal from the 11-man ranks has created a very interesting matchup in Week 3, as L'Anse visits LL-H on Sept. 13 in a rematch of a 2013 playoff game the Hornets won 52-34 at Meadowbrook Field.
LL-H was able to schedule that game by dropping North Central. In the place of its 2013 Ontonagon game is an interesting matchup in the Superior Dome Sept. 26 against Maple City Glen Lake. The Lakers (yes, it's going to be Lakes vs. Lakers) have posted back-to-back 8-1 regular seasons, reaching the second round of the Division 6 playoffs in both years. It's located on the Leelenau Peninsula 17 miles northwest of Traverse City.
As far as the game between the lines, there have been some rule changes worth knowing about, again largely fitting within the category of player safety.
Again taking a page from the college books, high school play now has a series of rules regarding 'targeting' an opponent and illegal helmet contact with a defenseless player. Both are 15-yard penalties.
Targeting penalties were a major talking point of the 2013 college season, mostly because they resulted in game-changing automatic ejections, often applied inconsistently or incorrectly. I don't see any mention of ejections in the MHSAA's annual update.
Targeting is defined as "taking aim at an opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder to initiate contact above the shoulders and with an intent beyond making a legal tackle or block, or playing the ball." A 'defenseless player' in this context is "one no longer involved in a play, a runner whose progress has been stopped, a player focused on receiving a kick, a receiver who has given up on an errant pass, or a player already on the ground."
Also, roughing the passer is now an automatic first down in addition to the previous 15-yard penalty. If you remember the 2013 fall rules changes column, consider this your reminder: Defensive pass interference is still no longer an automatic first down.
On kickoffs, the kicking team must have at least four players on either side of the kicker and only the kicker can line up more than five yards behind the line from which the ball is kicked. This eliminates loaded formations (particularly on onside kicks) and takes a little bit of a head start away for the kicking team in hopes of making kickoffs, often the most concussion-prone plays in the game, safer.
The first local cross country meet will be coming up in Atlantic Mine in less than two weeks. There's one rule change there (and in track and field) this year - the ban on jewelry has now been deemed unnecessary.
This, of course, creates the potential to make the best runners carry a little extra weight, like they do with horses. But we'll worry about petitioning the MHSAA to establish a framework for handicap races next year. Instead, I'll enjoy what's left of summer while I can.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.