Area coaches taking steps to prevent heat illness
ROGERS — Greenland football coach Lee Larkan recalls the days when a handful of ice chips was the lone luxury high school players received during sweltering August practices.
He and many of his teammates at Hazen High School would place the ice in their helmets, turn the helmet upside-down and drink the water from the hole in the top of their headgear.
“That’s all you got (during practice),” said Larkan, who’s won 92 games as coach of the Pirates. “There were a lot of people that suffered in those days because it was just miserable.
“Now, our kids carry water bottles with them all the time. We provide them water bottles and they can get water any time.”
Times have changed, but more importantly coaches have learned that hydration is important. Proper hydration is on the forefront of every coach’s mind as fall camps across the state are set to begin this week.
Dr. Brendon P. McDermott, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville spoke to a ballroom full of coaches last week at the Mercy Coaches Clinic in Rogers. One of the major parts of the clinic is the Kendrick Fincher Hydration for Life Foundation, named after the former Rogers youth who died from heat stroke in August 1995.
Relaying the potential dangers involved with strenuous activity during the hottest days of the year is a must. Coaching staffs do so through player and parent meetings, where hydration, as well as concussion protocol and symptoms, are discussed.
McDermott says rehashing heat illness prevention to players periodically throughout a season can help with information retention.
“It’s not only important to present it, but to reiterate it down the line,” he said. “Coaches are highly respected individuals and should be with all of the responsibilities that fall on them.
“We know this from previous studies we’ve done related to hydration: (Players) pay attention for a short period of time and remember it shortterm, but if its not reiterated they’re going to forget. Restate the information every now and then and then maybe providing a snippet could definitely help.”
Acclimating players to heat gradually is key, McDermott said, and summer programs go a long way in prohibiting players from experiencing heat syncope – fainting as a result of limited blood flow to the heart and brain – exertional heat stroke and heat cramps.
“The summer workout program is a major acclimation time,” Springdale HarBer coach Chris Wood said. “It’s not just going out in August and going 3-4 hours at a time. You actually bring them in the summer and the whole summer is about the acclimation to the heat and getting them ready for August. That’s a big deal.”
One of the more wellknown cases of heat-related tragedies is the death of former Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer. Entering his seventh season in the National Football League, the 6-foot-4, 335-pound offensive linemen complained of exhaustion on the team’s first day of training camp and was carted off the field.
Stringer returned to camp the next day, where the heat index reached 110 degrees. Dizziness set over him and the all-league talent was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Upon arriving, his body temperature had risen to 108. He was unconscious until he died shortly after midnight.
Since then, extra preventative measures have become the norm at football practices across the country. Bryan Pratt, entering his second season at Bentonville West, says you will find ‘cool tents’ with fans, cold tubs, ice towels and water stations scattered about at his practices.
“From a guy who used to coach down in Texas, where it was really hot, you learn to take care of some situations so you don’t lose anybody in the heat,” he said. “If we notice anything we’ll send them to a trainer, who’s always right there.” Coaches also encourage players to speak up about their state of being. Players know their bodies better than anyone, and relaying potential symptoms can increase the likelihood of avoiding a traumatic event.
“When it comes to practice it’s not a tough-man competition. Our deal is if anything feels out of whack, we want them to speak up, hydrate and be proactive,” said Wood, who typically holds team practices at 7 a.m. to beat the heat of the day. “We’re not going to make less of anybody in the course of practice if they need to hydrate a little bit more.
“The safety of the kids in the practice is the No. 1 priority.”
Dr. Brendon McDermott, University of Arkansas assistant professor of kinesiology, gives a talk on preventing, recognizing and treating heat illness Thursday during the Mercy Coaching Summit at the John. Q. Hammons Center in Rogers.