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- Published on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 10:22
With August football practices looming, Elk City High School Football not taking any chances with heat risks
Daily Elk Citian
During his first season as a football coach, while at Haven High School in Kansas, Jason Scheck came closer than he ever wanted to a life-threatening heat-related illness in one of his football players.
The current Elk City High School head football coach was with the team at a summer camp, when a player went crashing to the surface of the grass field, while the team was running “gassers” after practice. The young man was unresponsive for five, gut-wrenching minutes.
“Honestly, I thought we lost him at one point,” Scheck said.
Even the presence of a paid, certified athletic trainer from nearby Hutchinson, Kan., wasn’t enough to prevent or subdue the threat of overheating. On the field, coaches and trainers stripped the player of his football pads and packed his neck, arm pits, and legs with ice.
When the staff finally got the victim inside of the training room, his body temperature was 106 degrees. At that point, the staff literally packed the player in ice, during a furious attempt to lower his body temperature, Scheck said, but even that didn’t seem to work.
“We just could not get his body temperature to come down. Finally the ambulance got there and they started pumping IV fluids into his body, then thirty minutes later his body temperature started to finally come down.”
An hour later, the young man walked out of the hospital completely fine, but that didn’t shake loose the feelings Scheck said he and the coaching staff experienced, which he described as “worthlessness.” He said taking responsibility over the health and well-being of each player should be one of the key focal points of every coach in the business.
“[That experience] was unbelievable. It goes back to this: If you have a kid who gets injured in the weight room, if you don’t take take that personal like it’s your fault [as a coach], then you’re not going to make it in this profession.”
Unfortunately, incidents like the one Scheck retold have been on the rise in the high school football world, some resulting in the worst possible outcome. Earlier this year, the International Journal of Biometeorology published a study by University of Georgia researchers, which found heat-related deaths among high school and college football players in the United States nearly tripled between the 1994 and 2009 seasons.
The study found that heat indexes were higher during that time period than they were in the preceding 15 years, and that most of the deaths occurred in August, when coaches intensified preseason training.
“In general, on the days the deaths occurred, the temperature was hotter and the air more humid than normal conditions,” senior study author Andrew Grundstein, a climatologist and associate professor of geography at UGA told Yahoo! News.
BEATING THE HEAT
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Protection, between 1979 and 2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths. During that period, more people died in the U.S. from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
The CDCP states that people suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate to high temperatures and do not properly cool themselves. Signs of heat stroke include: An extremely high body temperature (103 degrees Fahrenheit, orally); red, hot, and dry skin with no sweat; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness.
Physical symptoms like confusion, disorientation, dizziness, and incomprehension are the signs for football coaches to watch for during practice, said Megan Thomas, a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist at Great Plains Regional Medical Center.
“A lot of it is just lack of coordination or not not following directions. Most of the time, the kids are really good at letting coaches know, or student trainers do well at keeping a close eye on it.”
Rogers said she has never witnessed first-hand an athlete with heat stroke or heat exhaustion, which meant athletes she’s observed stayed hydrated, more than likely. The best way to decrease the chances of heat exhaustion is to drink eight to 12 ounces of water every 20 minutes during intense exercise.
“Once athletes develop heat cramps, it’s really hard to get those to stop. Hydration is a big part of that before you even start practice,” Thomas said, noting the ECHS football team keeps a whirlpool full of cold water ready in case a player overheats.
Thomas also said having a “heat-acclimation period” for the first 14 days of practice is recommended by the National Athletic Trainers Association, which also advises practices in the heat run no longer than three hours at a time, including warm-up, stretches, and a cool-down period.
ECHS FOOTBALL RISK MANAGEMENT
In the case of heat-related illness or dehydration, to be armed with knowledge is to be prepared. The ECHS football staff is just that, as it produces a “Heat Contingency Plan” every year, which includes different codes for temperature levels.
“Code Yellow” includes heat indexes of 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Under these conditions, athletes receive water every 15 minutes, and coaches allow a 10-minute cooling period midway through practice.
Under “Code Red,” in which heat indexes over 105 degrees Fahrenheit are present, practices are conducted in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts.Athletes receive water every 15 minutes and the same cooling off period as prescribed under Code Yellow.
None of those codes are established until an official weather reading is taken with with a Kestrel Weather Station, which is a handheld weather monitor that calculates a precise heat index by factoring humidity, temperature, and wind speeds.
Furthermore, each athlete’s body weight is measured before and after each practice. If a player doesn’t gain a certain percentage of his body weight back before the next practice, they aren’t allowed to participate.
“[The weigh-ins] have to do with checking on dehydration and water loss. If they don’t replenish that fluid in their body, it’s only a matter of time before they reach severe dehydration. This is how we combat that.”
Athletic director Bill Weatherly said each head coach and assistant coach is required to attend a program through Oklahoma High School Association and National Federation of High School Athletics, which shows how to recognize heat illness, exhaustion and dehydration.
“It’s not something that is skipped over by any coach,” Weatherly said. “Without a doubt, they all know how to recognize the symptoms.”
Each season, Scheck said, Thomas treks over from GPRMC to attend preseason coaches meetings and conducts a presentation geared to prepare for heat-related illnesses. Coaches are re-educated on what to do if, and when, such a situation presents itself. But coaches cannot simply stop practices every one or two minutes and look under the helmet of each player to view such symptoms, which is why Scheck is keen on educating his players on how to come to practice prepared.
The head coach noted that players who have attended Elk Summer Pride are more than likely acclimated to the heat and adjust to the conditions just fine. However, players who come out for football without that experience can be at-risk.
“Those are the players you have to watch really close, right off the bat.”
The school’s Heat Contingency Plan advices athletes to prevent heat illness by drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water or sports drink two to three hours prior to practice, then drink seven to 10 ounces of fluids 10 to 20 minutes before the workout.
Another preventitive measure Scheck hopes will soon be available at the ECHS field house is an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) machine, which can send an electric shock to the heart that will restore the natural heart rhythm to a victim during cardiac arrest. Scheck estimates most buildings in the school district have an AED machine, except the field house. His mission is that, should an emergency arise, his staff is adequately prepared in every possible way to handle the situation.
“Everything here is built around a system, where steps are in place in case something happens. If you wait for it to happen before you can handle it, you’re just setting yourself up for disaster.”