Schools follow guidelines to protect young athletes

Schools follow guidelines to protect young athletes

August 1st, 2011 by Lindsey Young in Sports - Preps

Preston Bailey takes a break from performing drills to hydrate during Thursday morning's football practice at Boyd-Buchanan school.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


Texas A&M University head trainer David Weir produced a video for Georgia high school coaches on how to handle heat-related issues:

• Before the start of practice, have an emergency plan in place. The best device to use when a person begins to overheat is an ice-water immersion tank, which can be a simple water trough or kid's pool filled with ice and water.

• Frequent water breaks should be mandatory and the athletes should have sports drinks such as Gatorade available following practices and games to replace the electrolytes that water doesn't.

• Adjust workouts and practices. Shorten them, change the times to earlier or later in the day and remove equipment.

• Encourage players to report any illness such as a simple cold, sinus infection or stomach ache because any weakened condition can quicken dehydration. Create an environment of communication with your athletes.

To see the video, go to

There's a scene in the football movie "Remember the Titans" in which coach Herman Boone refuses to give his players water following a brutal practice.

In the 1970s, when the movie was based, such a move was seen as a way to toughen a team up.

Today, it could land you in jail.

In August 2008, 15-year-old high school football player Max Gilpin died of heat exhaustion during a practice in Louisville, Ky. Head football coach Jason Stinson, according to some witnesses, refused to give Gilpin water at one point during the practice.

Stinson later stood trial on charges of reckless homicide and, though he was found not guilty, the incident trained a national spotlight on the dangers of playing and practicing football in extreme temperatures. In the South, such temperatures are unavoidable when practices start in August and the heat doesn't subside until October or November.

While some football-related fatalities are because of the physical nature of the sport, heat-related deaths should never happen, according to Dr. Fred Mueller. A professor of exercise and sports medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mueller studied 39 heat-induced football-related deaths from 1995 to 2008, noting that 33 of them were high school students and that, in every case, "they were all preventable."

To someone like Steve Carpenter, that's hardly news. The veteran certified athletic trainer for Ringgold High School and Erlanger Sports Medicine is well aware that as Chattanooga-area teams hit the practice field beginning this week, temperatures will be in the 90s, putting the athletes -- in pads for the first time -- immediately at risk.

He also knows that, where extreme temperatures and athletics are concerned, a little common sense goes a long way.

"The No. 1 thing is to stay ahead of it," Carpenter said. "By the time a kid starts getting dehydrated, it will be difficult to get him back to normal quickly. We tell them that they should come to practice already hydrated and be able to urinate clear fluids.

"Of course," he added, "you have to have frequent water breaks, and you need to keep an eye on them. If they're starting to fatigue, give them a break. "

Tennessee has taken it one step further. While most states, Georgia and Alabama included, leave it up to the school systems to implement a heat policy, Tennessee has a statewide policy that prohibits any athletic competition or practice if the heat index exceeds 104 degrees. For example, a temperature of 90 and relative humidity of just 68 percent would create a heat index of 104.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association doesn't stop there. It also has a guideline for coaches and officials in all sports when the heat index gets close to 104.

If the heat index is between 95 and 104 degrees during a football game, for instance, officials must stop the game for a heat timeout at the first dead-ball period after the halfway point in each quarter. In similar conditions for soccer, the referee must stop the game for a heat timeout lasting at least five minutes in the first and second halves.

Kristi Murray hit the practice field at Boyd-Buchanan School and immediately brought out a digital instrument that looks like a large thermometer. It's a heat index instrument and what the 11-year certified trainer will use to determine whether there will be practice for the Buccaneers this day.

Murray, who graduated from Southern Mississippi University and interned with the college's football program, is no stranger to humidity. Nor is she unfamiliar with a coach's unhappy reaction after being informed there will be no practice. It's one reason she's grateful for the TSSAA policy.

"It's a great thing, and it's a great guideline for coaches that don't have trainers available at every practice," she said. "With the policy in Tennessee, it's very cut and dried. When I was in college, before the NCAA had strict guidelines, whenever the heat index would get over a certain point, we would all look at each other and say, 'OK, who's going to tell the coach?'

"Today, they might not be happy, but it's the rule," she said. "I've never had any problems with Boyd-Buchanan coaches. They really care about the kids, and they educate them on coming in prepared."

That preparation, according to Carpenter, is the biggest reason high school football heat-related deaths have been down every year since 2006, when there were five. There have been two annually since then.

Though some people question the value of 7-on-7 passing league camps and workouts over the summer -- both have become commonplace in recent years -- Carpenter is convinced the added activity has made a big difference in one major area.

"Those activities help tremendously in getting the kids in shape and getting them acclimated to the heat," Carpenter said. "In the years before the 7-on-7 stuff started, I saw many more heat-related problems. You can really tell the difference in the kids now. It takes two to four weeks to get acclimated to this kind of heat and humidity, and now these guys come in and are ready to go."

Still, Carpenter and Murray will arrive at camp, gather the kids together and give them the same speech they've given for years.

"Yeah, I've got it ready," Murray laughed. "No soft drinks or tea and drink lots of water. You can drink Gatorade or Powerade; don't stop and get fast food before you practice. Eat right, get plenty of sleep and come in prepared. If you're not taking care of yourself, we'll know right away."