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Heat and Student Athletes

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SALT LAKE CITY – Temperatures are expected to be near 100 in certain spots along the Wasatch Front, which can be a big problem for high school student-athletes getting ready for football season.  State officials say there are things coaches have to do to protect the kids from the heat.

A lot of so-called “old-timers” may remember taking part in “hell week” as part of their practice when they played football as a kid.  There were two, sometimes three practice session per day in the blazing summer sun and coaches only allowed kids to stop if they were about ready to pass out or throw up.  However, officials with the Utah High School Activities Association say those days are long gone.

Football director Brenan Jackson says they’ve been working very closely with the Korey Stringer Institute, named after a professional football player who died while working for the NFL in 2001.

“He died of heat stroke during some of their practice times,” Jackson says.

One key recommendation made but the KSI is a training schedule that’s designed to protect players from being overwhelmed by the heat.

Jackson says, “It’s a process that they go through to acclimatize to the heat along with their pads and different things like that.  There’s a natural progression that they are to follow.”

For instance, players are only allowed to use their helmets during the first two days.  After that, they can wear their pads, but only for a certain amount of time.  The acclimatization process last for 14 days, and it prohibits coaches from holding three sessions per day, and no session can last for more than three hours.  If a team hits a certain number of hours one day, they have to shorten their practices the next.

Plus, schools have the flexibility to change their schedules if they think it’s necessary.

“Schools can decide when they practice.  They can decide if it’s in the early morning or the evening when it’s not as hot,” he says.

He admits, coaches and trainers weren’t able to spot the warning signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in decades past, but they’ve put a lot of work into making sure those warning signs aren’t ignored, now.

“In most of our larger schools and districts, they have a certified and licensed athletic trainers who are at the practices, and they monitor that,” Jackson says.

The UHSAA now requires certain pieces of equipment have to be at the ready at every school.

“We implemented, last year, that every school had to have a cooling tub,” Jackson says, adding, “They had to have ice and water in the cooling tub large enough not only for player, but for coaches.”

Jackson says they’re also looking into how they may require schools to have something called a wet bulb globe monitor.  It measures how hot a playing field is, and mixes that with air temperatures and the heat index to determine if it’s safe to practice on a particular surface.  Currently, some districts have them, but, Jackson says their committees are trying to figure out how every school in the state should use one.

“They’re discussing a policy that we want to put in place,” he says.