Created:Thursday, March 21, 2013 1:00 p.m.CDT
Updated:Friday, March 22, 2013 12:04 a.m.CDT
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Limited hitting bill voted down by state committee for second straight day

Crystal Lake South noseguard Nick Amren (right) tries to get by offensive lineman Vinny Atella during a football practice in August. The state's Elementary and Secondary Education committee voted Rep. Carol Sente's House Bill 1205 down, 8-5, Thursday morning in Springfield. (FILE PHOTO)

Drew Potthoff isn't opposed to limits being put on how much football players hit one another. But if there are going to be restrictions, Potthoff – who won a Class 1A state football championship at South Beloit in 2002 – would prefer they come based on the opinion of coaches rather than lawmakers. For the second straight day, a commitee of legislators came to the same conclusion.

The state's Elementary and Secondary Education committee voted Rep. Carol Sente's House Bill 1205 down, 8-5, Thursday in Springfield. The same measure was voted down 6-5 on Wednesday. The bill sought to limit full-contact drills to two days a week and prohibit the practice all together during the offseason and summer. Under the bill, coaches also would be required to complete an online concussion training program.

Potthoff, now the athletic director at Faith Lutheran, was among those asked by IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman to testify before the committee Thursday. Potthoff said Thursday afternoon that while he appreciated Sente's concerns over players' safety, he feels mandating football legally wasn't the right approach.

"That's going to complicate things," Potthoff said. "There's a lot of questions that need to be answered about what is contact and what kind of contact you're talking about." Hickman was among those to speak at Thursday's hearing. Like Potthoff, he applauds Sente's efforts to keep the head injury issue at the forefront of discussions. But Hickman said he was glad to see lawmakers electing not to get involved.

The IHSA will host a meeting April 17 in Bloomington to address concerns not only with head injuries, but also with climatization issues, including heat concerns during the summer. Hickman said the IHSA's medical committee, football advisory committee and athletic advisory committee will be part of the discussion that will seek to address answers to the questions raised by Sente in House Bill 1205.

Throughout the discussion stages of her proposed bill, Sente said she respected the work the IHSA had done. She said putting limitations into a law was more for coaches who weren't doing all they could to ensure player safety. Hickman was glad to see the subject remain under the IHSA's juristiction.

"IHSA plays an important role in these kind of situations and I think [lawmakers] understood that we have a plan to address [Sente's] concerns," Hickman said in a phone interview Thursday. "Her concerns are real, we understand that and that we are the entity really that should have the ability to work through those kinds of issues.

"I think it was pretty clear they believe we didn't need legislation in this area."

Sente will pay attention to what happens at the April 17 meeting, saying Thursday night that she's OK with limitations coming from the IHSA and not from lawmakers. What concerns her, though, is that while the IHSA and coaches told her they didn't like her bill, they raised many of the same issues she did – some that could lead to restrictions such as no offseason hitting.

"It is a little puzzling," Sente said. "It's almost like they're saying, 'We don't want that [bill], but we'll do it our way. That's the feeling that I'm kind of left with."

Sente said if she doesn't see the progress from the IHSA she feel is needed, she will re-address the bill later. She said she may also limit her bill to youth football if need be.

Potthoff also runs the St. Mary's youth football program in Woodstock and is among those that believe there's still plenty that can be done. He has been impressed in the measures coaches have taken over the past decade to make practices safer as concerns over concussions and head injuries have grown.

Hickman said there is "always more we can do" but he feels enough is being done without governement involvement. Hickman said The Sports Legacy Institute in Boston – founded by former Harvard University football player and professional wrestler Chris Nowinsky – will be part of next month's meeting, helping state athletic officials better understand the issue.

Nowinsky was among those Sente consulted for her bill. Nowinsky, who retired as a pro wrestler after experiencing concussions, said in a phone interview this week he wants to help IHSA officials make decisions that will help make high school football safer.

Even if that brings changes to how football is regulated in the future.

"I think you'll see some limitations," Potthoff said. "Coaches would rather have them come from the IHSA because the IHSA is going to get their input."