Safety on the Field

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - MARIYA LEWTER mlewter@cov­news.com

A look at how our lo­cal teams are stay­ing safe in record heat.

On July 22, it was re­ported that 12-yearold Johnny Tol­bert, from south Ful­ton County, Ge­or­gia had brain dam­age af­ter suf­fer­ing a heat stroke dur­ing foot­ball prac­tice at Wel­come All Park. He re­port­edly col­lapsed around 7:30 p.m. dur­ing con­di­tion­ing drills while it was 90 de­grees out­side, ac­cord­ing to a re­port on WSBTV.

This alarm­ing news raises the ques­tion of how teams who prac­tice in the heat pre­vent heat exhaustion and what guide­lines are in place to en­sure the safety of play­ers.

“Right now, we’re in the GHSA ac­cli­ma­tion pe­riod where it’s two hours of prac­tice per day,” said head East­side foot­ball coach Troy Hoff. “Reg­u­la­tions with that go with our GHSA heat pol­icy.”

The Ge­or­gia High School As­so­ci­a­tion (GHSA) has a prac­tice pol­icy for heat and humidity in its con­sti­tu­tion and by-laws for the 2016-2017 year. Ac­cord­ing to the pol­icy, “schools must fol­low the statewide pol­icy for con­duct­ing prac­tices and vol­un­tary con­di­tion­ing work­outs (in­clud­ing dur­ing the sum­mer) in all sports dur­ing times of ex­tremely high heat and/or humidity that will be signed by each head coach at the be­gin­ning of each sea­son and dis­trib­uted to all play­ers and their par­ents or guardians.”

The pol­icy pro­vides guide­lines for “the sched­ul­ing of prac­tices at var­i­ous heat/ humidity lev­els, the ra­tio of work­out time to time al­lot­ted for rest and hy­dra­tion at var­i­ous heat/humidity lev­els and the heat/ humidity lev­els that will re­sult in prac­tice be­ing ter­mi­nated.”

The pol­icy states var­i­ous guide­lines for rest breaks through­out prac­tices and ac­tiv­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, coaches are re- quired to pro­vide “at least three sep­a­rate rest breaks each hour with a min­i­mum du­ra­tion of three min­utes each dur­ing the work­out.”

Within the pol­icy, coaches are also re­quired to use in­stru­ments that mea­sure the Wet Bulb Globe Tem­per­a­ture (WBGT), or the mea­sure of heat stress in di­rect sun­light. The WBGT takes into ac­count fac­tors like tem­per­a­ture, humidity, sun an­gle and cloud cover.

Teams have train­ers that mon­i­tor the WBGT, telling them how many wa­ter and rest breaks are needed and when it is un­safe to prac­tice out­side.

“De­pend­ing on what the wet bulb read­ings are, it will be x amount of min­utes of rest per min­utes of work dur­ing the prac­tice,” Hoff said. “Ob­vi­ously a lot of hy­dra­tion, also. Our guys are drinking wa­ter all day. You just kind of mon­i­tor it.”

Be­ing in the south, sum­mer tem­per­a­tures can get ex­tremely high. On the other hand, some times of the day are con­sid­er­ably cooler than others. Coaches can choose to move prac­tices around based on those times.

“We move prac­tice up to 5 p.m. just so we can have a lit­tle more smooth tran­si­tion,” Hoff said. “It’s still hot, but the wet bulbs drop quite a bit from 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. You just have to mon­i­tor them. That’s the biggest thing.”

New­ton holds foot­ball camps dur­ing the sum­mer from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Ac­cord­ing to head coach Ter­rance Banks, they pro­vide break­fast and lunch to play­ers, which has helped to lower their risk of heat exhaustion.

“Our guide­line, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer, is if a kid says that he’s not feel­ing it, we pull him out,” Banks said. “We have less of those now that we feed our kids break­fast and lunch than we have had in the past. A lot of that was from not eat­ing in the morn­ing. Now that we know they’re eat­ing, we’ve had less oc­cur­rences of kids com­plain­ing about heat.”

Foot­ball play­ers are not the only peo­ple who prac­tice out­side dur­ing the sum­mer months. Band mem­bers also prac­tice in the heat; some­times in full uni­form.

“Plenty of wa­ter breaks is im­por­tant,” said East­side band di­rec­tor Alan Fowler. “Based on what the weather is do­ing, we may al­ter our even­ing sched­ule. We try to be in­side in the air con­di­tion­ing as much as pos­si­ble in the af­ter­noons be­cause I’ve got good sense.”

Fowler, who re­cently held band camp a week prior to the start of school, says the key is to hy­drate early.

“I think the biggest one is that we en­cour­age the kids early to be drinking wa­ter, be­cause it’s not when you get over­heated that you re­ally need to start drinking wa­ter,” he said. “You need to hy­drate. Every mes­sage I send out prior to band camp in­cludes, ‘hy­drate, hy­drate, hy­drate.’ You want to be smart.”

Pho­tos by Mariya Lewter | The Cov­ing­ton News

East­side play­ers dur­ing sum­mer foot­ball prac­tice.

New­ton foot­ball play­ers dur­ing a morn­ing sum­mer prac­tice.

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