Heat index on mind of high school football coaches


Adam Minichino



The heat index is a number on the mind of more and more high school football coaches. 


With temperatures and heat indices in the state reaching into the upper 90s and 100s, respectively, in the past two weeks, football coaches around the state are trying to identify the best times and ways to get their players in condition for the start of the season. 


When state schools and football teams reconvene Aug. 3 for the 2009-10 school year, coaches might have another item to consider. 


The National Athletic Trainers'' Association recommended last week that high school football teams should eliminate two-a-day practices in the first week of August drills when heat stroke has proven particularly deadly. 


The trainers'' group issued its opinion in a report issued less in advance of what could be the hottest part of the summer, which just so happens to be when football teams across the country are getting back into gear for another season. 


The NATA recommended teams take longer breaks between practice and give players more time to ease into contact drills. 


It pointed to the death of a 15-year-old Kentucky boy last August after he collapsed during practice. Prosecutors charged his coach with reckless homicide in an unusual case of a coach being held criminally responsible for a player''s death. 


"Things aren''t going very well at the high school level. We''ve had a couple very bad years," said Douglas Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the report for the Dallas-based association. "This wasn''t done for the convenience of coaches." 


Each state''s governing body for high school athletics will decide how its schools follow the recommendations. 


Dr. Ennis Proctor, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, told The Clarion Ledger in Jackson last week that the Mississippi High School Activities Association already has guidelines in place to help prevent heat-related injuries or deaths. 


"I can understand why they would recommend that because the safety of the players and coaches should come first," Proctor told The Clarion Ledger. "We''re going to take every precaution." 


Mike Wilkinson, a veteran athletic trainer who chairs the MHSAA''s sports medicine advisory committee, told The Clarion Ledger the committee suggested to the MHSAA twice in the past four years to get rid of two-a-days. 


Wilkinson said up to 85 percent of heat-related deaths happen during the first week or 10 days of practice. 


"... Kids spend so much time now indoors," Wilkinson said. "It''s not like the days when kids were outside all the time, so now they are not as acclimatized to the heat. And that''s a critical part of conditioning. You can be in great shape, but nothing can replace acclimatization." 


Three area football coaches said they don''t use two-a-days and that the start of the school year to coincide with the first day of football practices makes it difficult for coaches to use that method of practice. 


"I wouldn''t think (using two-a-days) would be productive and it would not be something we would do," Columbus coach Bubba Davis said. "Even practicing one time a day you still have to be real careful." 


Davis said greater emphasis has been placed on taking care of players in the past 10 years. He said coaches frowned on players taking water breaks when he played. He said that mind-set changed slowly and is to the point today when he and other coaches have to force their players to drink water all of the time to ensure they are properly hydrated. 


And with less and less time once school starts to prepare for the first game of the season, Davis said the players need to do more conditioning, running, and weightlifting in the summer to make sure they are ready for the heat of August. 


"So far our kids have responded well and we have been very, very pleased with them," Davis said. "We are working real hard in the weight room. We also are doing a lot of running. Ninety-eight percent are pushing themselves to get better. They aren''t fighting us like they did last year, so we think we''re where we need to be right now." 


New Hope High coach Michael Bradley agreed that coaches in Lowndes County and in the state really don''t have much opportunity to hold two-a-day practices. He said he hasn''t used two-a-days since he has been at New Hope High but that they are good ways to help coaches build work ethic, togetherness, and team unity. 


Bradley said the Trojans try to build that team chemistry in the offseason with work in the weight room and in conditioning drills. He said those things take commitment from the players, which can be difficult to secure in the "offseason." 


"The heat is not any different now than it has been for the past 100 years," Bradley said. "The difference is kids today are living in an air conditioner and watching TV too much in the summertime. If you have a good summer program getting used to the heat will not be a problem." 


Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller, whose team has played for the Class 4A state title the past two years, said he is in favor of not having two-a-days. He said his team has stayed busy in the "offseason" by attending numerous 7-on-7 passing camps, which has helped his skill-position players stay in shape. 


As for the rest of his team, Miller said he and his assistant coaches do their best to keep the weight room at the school open so players can lift weights as often as they can. 


Miller said the heat and the desire to maintain Noxubee County''s football tradition have helped motivate the Tigers to work hard in the spring and in the summer to prepare themselves for the fall. 


"It is a lot easier now when you''re winning because the kids want to participate more and the community wants to get behind you a little more," said Miller, whose team won the state championship last season. "The kids are working a little harder. We''re not going to get all of them to do it, but we get the majority of them to do it. To maintain a winning tradition you have to do what you have been doing and a little more because you can''t stop everything you have to do it harder because everyone wants to get you." 


Since 1995, at least 39 football players across all levels have died from heat-related causes and most of those cases happened in early August, said Dr. Frederick Mueller, director of the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. 


At least 42 states have some sort of heat illness-prevention guidelines, said David Csillan, an athletic trainer at Ewing High School in Ewing, N.J., and report co-author. He said the recommendations put forth are geared toward better acclimating high school students across all sports to the heat. 


Associated Press reports were included in this story. 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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