Hilltop News - Elevated heat index keeps players off the field

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By Lee Kendall

On Tuesday, the Harrison County High School football team got some housekeeping business taken care of, but didnt take the field at all due to the combination of heat and humidity that raised the heat index above an acceptable level.

With the heat-related deaths of several high school, collegiate and professional football and soccer players in the last few years, it has become a state mandate, and rightfully so, that every high school sports team, regardless of the season, must monitor and record the heat index.

In Kentucky, July and August are the primary months when heat index issues are most likely. However, our coaches in all sports are aware of their responsibility to monitor changing weather conditions year-round and to modify their practice plans, based on what the actual heat index may be.

At Harrison County High School, several devices, called sling psychrometers, that measure the heat index have been purchased and are on site at LeBus Field where the boys and girls play and practice soccer, at the football weight room/locker room and at the HCHS gymnasium where the volleyball team practices and plays.

Those devices are able to determine the on-site temperature and humidity. The coaches have a conversion chart from the Kentucky Medical Association and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association that allows the coaches to plug in the actual on-site temperature and humidity and determine what the heat index is at that particular time and place.

For example, if at 5 p.m. at LeBus Field it is 93 degrees with 45 percent humidity, the heat index would be 98 degrees, a dangerously high level.

Coaches are mandated to follow certain procedures, as prescribed by the KMA/KHSAA, depending on what the actual heat index may be.

Here are the mandates that all coaches are required to follow:

If the heat index is 95 to 99 degrees:

Provide ample amounts of water. This means that water should always be available and athletes should be able to take in as much water as they desire.

Mandatory water breaks every 30 minutes for 10 minutes in duration.

Ice-down towels for cooling.

Watch/monitor athletes carefully for necessary action.

Helmets and other possible equipment removed if not involved in contact.

Reduce time of outside activity. Consider postponing practice to later in the day.

Recheck temperature and humidity every 30 minutes to monitor for increased heat index.

If the heat index is 100 to 104 degrees (same as above, plus the following):

Alter uniform by removing items if possible.

Allow for changes to dry t-shirts and shorts.

Reduce time of outside activity as well as indoor activity if air conditioning is unavailable.

Helmets and other possible equipment removed if not involved in contact or necessary for safety. If necessary for safety, suspend activity.

If the heat index is above 104 degrees:

Stop all activity in practice and or play and stop all inside activity if air conditioning is unavailable.

A variety of combinations of temperature and humidity would conceivably push the heat index above the 104 degree level, for example, 85 degrees and 95 percent humidity; 90 degrees and 67 percent humidity; 95 degrees and 48 percent humidity.

Last year, more than a couple of our soccer games had to be delayed, until the heat index dropped to an acceptable level. There have been many high school football games state-wide in the last several years that have either been delayed, canceled or had mandatory time-outs during play to allow players to cool down and hydrate.

I am 49 years of age and am old enough to have experienced the old school methods that coaches used in days gone by. I can vividly recall three policies that nearly every high school football coach of that era implemented that would be considered taboo today.

1.Football players were never permitted to take off their helmets during practice or games, regardless of oppressive heat and humidity. This policy purportedly fostered toughness and togetherness. Today, it is considered a recipe for disaster.

2.Football players were forbidden water during practice if at the players request. Brief scheduled water breaks were permitted, at the coachs discretion. Again, the toughness issue was behind this policy.

3.Salt tablets were encouraged and dispensed as a method of preventing cramping. In reality, these salt tablets did more harm than good as they enhanced dehydration.

Certainly, there are the 50-something and older war horses out there that claim that todays athletes are coddled and lack the toughness of previous generations, and that may be true to a certain degree. Hopefully, todays athletes will be alive and well enough to make those same comments about generations to come 30 years from now.