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Chattanooga Christian football player Josh Elliott hydrates during a break at practice Thursday.

In enforcing the TSSAA heat policy, coaches and athletic trainers must see eye to eye.

Ever since the state association established a strict heat policy for high school sports less than a decade ago, the athletic trainers hold a lot of responsibility. With football season quickly approaching in the heart of summer, coaches and trainers increasingly are working together to ensure that the heat policy is followed precisely.

The TSSAA policy states that practice will be prohibited when the heat index (with humidity figured in with temperature) exceeds 104 degrees. There are separate restrictions for football that lays out when a team can wear full pads and how often it can participate in two-a-day practices.

Boyd-Buchanan coach Carter Cardwell and trainer Kristy Murray express confidence in each other on implementing the heat policy. They worked together at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when Cardwell was an assistant coach and she was on the training staff for the Mocs.

"We know each other and we are on the same page about a whole lot of things, which makes it easy," Cardwell said. "She has a good watchful eye on the kids and she knows I defer all decisions to her completely (regarding the heat). She trusts me and I trust her, and that is what makes it work well."

Before every practice, Cardwell sends out the practice schedule to his staff and to Murray, who looks it over with the eyes of a medic instead of the eyes of a coach. Among her other duties at practice, she monitors the heat index every 30 minutes and watches the athletes to make sure they are beating the heat, not having the heat beat them.

Murray said having a coach who supports the decisions she has to make in regard to the heat is important to the process.

"I don't think you could do it if you didn't have a good working relationship. You have to be able to work together because the kids are the number one priority," Murray said. "You really want to make sure that they are taken care of, so if (a trainer) and a coach cannot be on the same page, there is going to be friction."

Since the idea of heat policies has not been around for very long, both Murray and Cardwell know that making things work takes a good amount of trial and error.

Early in Cardwell's coaching career, the closest thing to a "heat policy" was handing out salt tablets and encouraging kids not to eat before practice, which is a lot different than the educational tactic of proper hydration and nutrition of today.

For Murray, who grew up in southern Mississippi, athletic trainers were taught to prepare for the worst on the hot days since there were no regulations set in place and they never knew what the day's heat would bring.

She and Cardwell keep looking for new ways to be more efficient.

"We schedule practices around the heat," Murray said. "We also try to educate our kids in making sure they are eating healthy, making sure they are drinking lots of water and doing things before they come to practice to prevent some of these (problems) from happening."

While some coaches sometimes have a difficult time with the restrictions, Cardwell and his staff do not.

"You just make it work. To me, (the heat policies) are not a restriction. It's just a different way to do it," Cardwell said. "If you figure out how to do it and you are smart and efficient with your time, I think you can make it work.

"Bottom line, it's the kids. It's not about who is right or wrong from a sports medicine standpoint or the coach's standpoint; it is us working together to make sure that we can get the most out of the kids while also keeping everything safe."

Murray said being smart is the biggest key to success on the field when the days are extremely hot, and that keeping the athletes healthy is always going to be ahead of anything else on a checklist.

"Our number one priority is making sure the kids are taken care of," she said. "Safety is first; winning ballgames is next."

Contact Tori McElhaney at sports@timesfreepress.com

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