Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 21, 2013

Football teams cope with heat, new rules

By JAMES COOK jcook@record-eagle.com and CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI cdobrowolski@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The heat is on.

With late-summer temperatures rising in the area, local football teams are keeping up on new Michigan High School Athletic Association heat index guidelines aimed at keeping players safe from heat stroke.

It was hot at Tuesday’s Traverse City Central practice — 87 degrees on the MHSAA’s newly-imposed heat index — but not hot enough to mandate extra water breaks during practice sessions. Today’s highs are supposed to be in the 90s, but a forecast of windy conditions should help keep the heat index within a workable range.

“By MHSAA rules, you have to keep an eye on that now,” TC West head coach Tim Wooer said. “If you read into what they want, all their precautions are things we’re going to do anyway. We’re going to have ice towels. We’ll take their helmets off if it’s hot.”

The MHSAA offers suggestions if the heat index reaches 95. When if hits 99, teams are required to have 10-minute water breaks over 30 minutes of activity. Anything over 104 means activity must be stopped.

“The coaches are required to do an online clinic and then answer questions, so the understanding is very good at this point for coaches, unlike in the past,” TC Central head coach Tom Passinault said.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research reports that at least 40 players have died since 1992 from heat stroke. The total number of heat stroke deaths has doubled since 1975.

Central and West mostly practice in the morning, avoiding the hottest part of the day. But the Trojans don’t have as much practice space available as West.

With Central having problems with its practice field’s surface, the varsity is taking the junior varsity field in the morning. The JV and freshman teams are being pushed to the afternoon, which may create the need to adjust to the hot temperatures on the fly.

“We might start out in just helmets and no shoulder pads and then progressively as the evening cools down a little, go into pads,” Central athletic trainer Amy Ream said.

St. Francis practices during the middle of the day because that’s when its coaching staff is available to be at practice. This meant Tuesday’s session featured temperatures that were still in the upper 80s even in the late afternoon. Some players didn’t seem to be fazed by the heat, though.

“I’m from west Texas so I’m used to the heat. Down there all summer I’m used to it,” said senior quarterback Parker Guss, noting the breeze that accompanied Tuesday’s heat helped a lot.

Teammate Byron Bullough said the heat isn’t always easy, but he chalks it up as just part of football.

“Playing football, you’ve got to have a tough mind and try not to let it get to you, but it’s definitely tough,” he said. “You’ve got to put it aside and get the work in.”

The MHSAA requires heat index readings to be taken 30 minutes before an activity’s start and 60 minutes into it. Those requirements apply to all sports, indoor or outdoor, but are typically more applicable to football’s early season than other sports.

TC West also benefits from being in an area that is frequently breezy. Central’s Tuesday practice was at a heat index of 87 at 10:25 a.m., whereas West’s was a more cool 81.9 at 11:15 a.m.

“Some days it’s a curse; others, it’s a blessing,” Titans athletic trainer John McDougall said.

Athletic trainers and coaches are equipped with hand-held devices, some of which look more like stopwatches, to keep track of heat index during practices, scrimmages and games.

St. Francis coach Greg Vaughan said his staff takes the heat of summer workouts seriously, regularly giving his players water breaks.

“You look at our practice, we don’t go over 20 minutes without a water break,” he said. “Anytime the kids need water, they go and get it. We don’t mess with hearts, heads and heat.”