Football coaches deal with dangerous heat

Published 5:08 pm Friday, August 5, 2011

Beating the heat: Isabella football players take a water break during a preseason practice.

To be successful in the fall, high school football coaches must prepare their teams in the brutal summer heat.

But these coaches know the frustration and disappointment that come with losses on the field wouldn’t compare to the aftermath of a loss of a different sort.

Coaches take more precautions than ever to protect their players from heat-related illness, which claimed at least three lives and left four others hospitalized nationwide the week of July 25.

“I tell our coaches, ‘We’re going to err on the side of caution,’” Verbena coach Mike Harris said. “We take breaks about every 15 minutes. You always want to put the kids first. Football will be here next week or next year, but that kid might not.”

Many coaches adjust their practice schedule to avoid players being on the field during the hottest part of the day.

Coaches also encourage players to hydrate away from practice, and to eat healthy meals.

VHS is fortunate, at least for a Class 1A school, to have a teacher who is also a certified athletic trainer who attends each practice.

“She watches that, and lets us know if she thinks they’re getting too hot,” Harris said of Marijean Ballard. “If she gives me a nod, we’re taking a water break.”

The Alabama High School Athletic Association also offers resources to coaches.

“Heat reminder advisory” is written in large letters at the top of, and clicking on the link reveals help on topics including heat related deaths, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, prevention, fluids and risk factors.

Jim Tolbert, director of publications for AHSAA, said Executive Director Steve Savarese sent an email to coaches of all member schools earlier in the week, warning them to take precautions as a heat wave set in.

Football’s governing body also has practice rules. Teams have to spend their first three days of practice in shorts and T-shirts before they can practice in full pads so players can acclimate to the heat.

Also, if teams have two practices in one day, only one of those sessions can be conducted in full pads.

“First and foremost, the safety of student-athletes at our member schools, in all grades, their safety is our top priority,” Tolbert said.