The opening day for high school athletic practices, which will be the last day of July next year, was moved forward in the calendar to protect students, the director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association said in September.

In a hearing before the Joint Committee on Education, Director Kerwin Urhahn said the 590 high schools and 150 junior high schools that are part of the association approved the current schedule three years ago as concerns grew about concussions and conditioning of athletes.

Most young people grow up in air-conditioned homes and need to acclimate to hot conditions for outdoor sports, Urhahn said. And closely stacked football playoff games meant players were tired and more susceptible to injury, he said. Previously, a team would play three games in 11 days during early playoff rounds, but now there’s a week between games, Urhahn said.

“That was our sole reasoning for moving the start date — to try to make sure our kids were safe,” Urhahn said.

The committee is looking at how an early start for athletics and classes affects the ability of families to enjoy late summer travel and the ability of tourist attractions to retain employees.

While state law directs districts to start class no earlier than 10 days before the first Monday in September, many districts began earlier. Houston Schools opened Aug. 18, eight days earlier than the law directs.

Urhahn told the committee the association does not determine the starting date for practice based on school schedules. Over the years, the date has moved earlier, from Sept. 1 in 1937, when the first start date was set, to Aug. 1 this year.

The association will discuss at its regional and state meetings whether the new date is too early, Urhahn said.

“If it is important for you all for them to know that it is impacting tourism in the state, we will talk to them,” he said.

The association is not a government agency but operates under the Sunshine Law because it is supported by dues from public sources. The hearing was to help lawmakers understand that association decisions about activity dates are not tied to local school board decisions about school dates, said Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington and chairman of the joint committee.

“We need to do a better job of communicating what local school boards can do in relation to what MSHSAA does,” Romine said.

When school starts probably should be a purely local decision, Romine said in an interview.

“We need to have that conversation because what happens in St. Louis is not what is good for Branson, and what is good for Cape Girardeau is not good for Warrenton,” Romine said. “I don’t see why we should be making that decision, myself. I don’t see a valid reason for making that decision on the state level.”

Repealing the law setting a start date should be considered, but Romine said he’s not ready to draft legislation.

State Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe and a former football coach, said lobbying by the tourism industry is driving the effort toward later start dates to preserve access to student labor.

“When I look at an attempt to legislate the start of school, it is school boards and chambers of commerce’s attempt to get that cheap labor and have the legislature make the decision for them,” Lair said.


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