Coaches taking usual heat precautions as practice starts

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2001

[08/06/01] Two things are certain during August in Mississippi football practice will start and it will be very hot.

It’s a potentially fatal mix.

Eighteen high school players have died of heat-related causes since 1995, according to figures from a University of North Carolina study.

Still, Warren County’s high school coaches say they don’t plan to do a lot of things differently when two-a-days start today. They’ll just continue to keep an eye on the players and use common sense.

“It’s something to think about, but it’s not nearly the chance of getting killed in a wreck on the way over here,” St. Aloysius coach Jim Taylor said. “We’re not going to be foolish, but we’re still going to work hard to get our kids into condition.”

Coaches at all four local schools said they will monitor their players for signs of heat exhaustion, take frequent water breaks and use shade wherever possible in addition to practicing early in the morning and late in the evening.

Taylor said he “will make it a point” to have a cell phone on the field at all times, while Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens has set up a portable tent often used by the track team. Stevens also plans to have extra water stations and a hose ready to cool down overheated players.

At Warren Central, the Vikings will only go through one practice per day because of teachers’ meetings. Head coach Robert Morgan said there would also be a misting system set up on one goal post, and his staff will be lenient on players who remove their helmets. Coaches often make players keep their helmets on as a way of instilling discipline.

In addition, each school will have a trainer provided River Region Health Systems on the practice field at all times.

“Most of our coaches are very intelligent, very enlightened guys. They understand that the days of water-deprivation are over,” said Dr. Daniel Dare, a Vicksburg orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine.

Dare added that the preventive measures coaches have already taken are the biggest steps to reducing heat-related illnesses. He stressed that making sure everyone gets plenty of fluids was the best way to avoid problems.

If players or anyone else who works too long in the heat don’t get enough, the results aren’t pretty.

The first sign of heat-related illness is innocent enough. Cramps set in when a player’s body isn’t getting enough water. If the body isn’t rehydrated, chills, nausea or vomiting, and fever can set in all signs of heat exhaustion. The person may also stop sweating, a dangerous sign.

“At that point in time, you’ve got to stop because the next stage is heatstroke,” Dare said.

If left untreated, the person’s body temperature will continue to climb until he becomes unconscious, and vital organs begin to shut down beginning with the kidneys and liver.

“When you get to that point, you’re in trouble. It’s got a 50 to 70 percent fatality rate,” Dare said.

The coaches have done their best to avoid that, but they said players have to do their part, too, by speaking up if they start to feel ill or uncomfortable.

“Kids are different,” Porters Chapel Academy assistant coach Randy Wright said. “Some will tell you, and some will try to be tough and not say anything, and that’s just not real smart.”

Dare said it was vital for players to speak up.

“You can’t be macho,” he said. “You’ve got to understand that you can die.”

Stevens said it was harder and more important to police what players do away from the practice field. Drinking water between practice is just as critical as drinking it during practice, he said.

“It’s hard, because a kid would rather drink a Coca-Cola than water or Gatorade,” Stevens said. “And you have to make sure they’re drinking water at home … .”

Morgan said that Wednesday’s death of NFL star Korey Stringer from heatstroke will drive home tohigh school players the importance of drinking fluids.

“That’s the way we use that, to motivate them to take care of themselves,” Morgan said.

Other deaths around the nation have already stressed it to coaches.

“Used to be, somebody asked for water and we’d say, Suck it up!’ ” Stevens said. “We can’t do that anymore. If a kid says he’s sick, he’s sick.”

Morgan, who has coached for more than 30 years, said players simply aren’t as acclimated to the heat as they once were.

“Long years ago, boys were outside more,” he said. “They were required to do that. It’s not that way anymore. Not many of my guys are working on a farm.

“Some of them are, or they’re working outside on roofs, and out in the sun, and they’ll fare better than the ones that aren’t.”

Drinking plenty of water is just one preventive measure coaches have employed to ward off heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Another that everyone agrees on is the importance of an offseason conditioning program even in the brutal heat of June and July.

“This is the reason coaches stress summer conditioning, so that they’ll be acclimated to this.” Taylor said. “It’s hard to sit under that air conditioning all summer and then come out here.

“You’re more likely to go down if you’re not in shape than if you are in shape.”