Coaches keep close watch on heat index

Coaches keep close watch on heat index

August 16th, 2009 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

Warning signs of heat exhaustion

Dizziness, fainting, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, paleness, tiredness, weakness.

Warning signs of heatstroke

Body temperature of more than 103 degrees (checked orally); confusion; dizziness; nausea; red, hot and dry skin; lack of sweating; throbbing headache; unconsciousness.

Psychrometer is the latest catchword in high school football, and it will be hard to find a football coach or trainer in the often sultry South who doesn't have one.

Psychrometers measure temperature and humidity to obtain a heat index, and they have progressed from contraptions with bulbs on coat hangers to hand-held digital devices.

"I don't remember much about it because I was still fairly young, but my dad and some of his assistant coaches rigged some kind of device with milk bottles to check the heat index years ago," said Heritage coach Tim James, whose father, Raymond, was a longtime coach at East Ridge.

Unlike early practices in recent years, coaches have had very little problem with heat, humidity and high heat indexes this season, although each school is required to monitor the heat index every 30 minutes. If it reaches 104, practices are to be stopped.

"The first day of two-a-days we stopped practice a couple of times, but most of that week it was cloudy," Sequatchie County coach Chad Barger said.

Polk County coach Derrick Davis said the psychrometer for his program cost $97.

"It's fairly simple. You just push a button and it checks the humidity and heat and gives you a reading," he said.

The devices range in price from $14.99 to $400. There is even an iPhone application, iHydrate, that provides the heat index, the level of heat-illness risk under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's heat index, a timer to remind the user of a hydration schedule and a reference section with basic information on dehydration and heat-illness prevention.

High school athletic associations in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have guidelines in place regarding heat for practices and games. Alabama has limited the lengths of practices and the number of two-a-days while increasing the amount of summer conditioning time coaches can have with players.

Many of the new guidelines stemmed from the death of Kentucky high school player Max Gilpin from heatstroke and the subsequent grand jury indictment of his coach for reckless homicide.

"A lot of the rules are just common sense, although we have a practice policy on heat," said James, whose Georgia school is in its second football preseason. "Even with plenty of hydration and lots of water, it's common sense. On especially hot days or days when the humidity is high, we even have the kids take off their helmets and shoulder pads to cool them down."

Like most schools, Heritage has water available at each practice station and several managers with water bottles continually on the go.

"Within the practice schedule we have four or five water breaks, and any time kids are not actively involved in a drill they can drink water," James said.

After several seasons at Boyd-Buchanan, Grant Reynolds has adjusted his practice schedule.

"I have been around here so long that I know when and where the shadows fall," he said. "We start getting shade around 7 (p.m.), so the heat index has not been a problem. We usually practice early in the mornings and later in the evenings."

Boyd-Buchanan and others ran into minor problems during a multiple-team scrimmage at Bradley Central.

"We ran one play and then got stopped for about 20 minutes, but then some clouds rolled in and we were able to start back pretty quick," Reynolds said. "Cloud cover seems to help."

It also helps to have the psychrometer somewhere outside, away from air conditioning, at least an hour before it's used.

"I was keeping ours in the office and it was reading that it was hotter on the field than it was at the bank downtown," Barger said.

"You don't want to take your readings around any asphalt," Davis said. "I did one day and the heat index went to 112 degrees. I don't know how accurate they really are. I was walking to different places and it was going from 99 degrees to 103."

Few teams have been greatly inconvenienced by the new rules.

"The biggest disruption for me is me worrying if it goes up and down," Davis said. "When the temperature is hovering around 104, you stop, shut down practice. But even checking the index the other day, I canceled conditioning. I don't think any of us would ever get over it if we lost a kid."

Mandatory water breaks will continue during early games and will be called by the referee. Officials also will check the heat index and have been instructed to delay starting games or to interrupt play if the heat index rises to 104 or higher.

Georgia has heat guidelines for all warm-weather sports and also requires lightning detectors.

"It is a small box that gives off a warning if there is lightning within a certain number of miles," James said.