As Temperatures Soar, High School Football Coaches Are Cracking Down On Safety (Hartford Courant)

With temperatures surpassing 90 degrees and potentially reaching record levels this week, many high school football coaches are taking precautions to ensure player safety.

“My attitude is, don’t put any kid in danger,” said Harry Bellucci, the coach at HartfordPublic. “If there’s some shade in the area, do some work in the shade. It’s not worth anybody’s health to be out here when it’s like this.”

Hartford Public, as well as teams across the state, will need more than just shade this week with temperatures expected soar. Gary Lessor, assistant director of the weather center at Western Connecticut State University, said air quality could also being an issue. Lessor said actual air temperatures in the area around Hartford and Enfield could reach 96 degrees with a heat index close to 105 on Tuesday. Wednesday might be even warmer, Lessor said.

To avoid the extreme heat, Bellucci, who has coached for more than 38 years, said he starts practice in the early evening instead of midday. If necessary, the team will practice indoors to avoid the sun. Bellucci said players are allowed to stop practicing for water breaks whenever needed and that conditioning is done without pads and helmets if temperatures are too high.

While heat is often a concern, there is increased awareness following the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair. The offensive lineman died in June, two weeks after collapsing during a team workout. McNair suffered a heatstroke during the workout. Members of the Maryland athletics staff are on administrative leave during an external review.

“When that happens, it makes me even more aware of those circumstances of the heat, of making sure that you’re watching kids,” Bellucci said. “Making sure that you’re watching for signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke. It raises your awareness level after you see something like that.”

Glastonbury coach Scott Daniels is taking similar precautions. He’s giving players longer breaks between reps, and he’s advising players to hydrate and to dump water on their heads to cool off.

The Tomahawks practice on both turf and grass. Daniels said that he and his staff will test the turf before players go on it. If it’s too hot to touch, he’ll have the players work out on grass.

In Southington, coach Mike Drury has been in contact with the athletic trainers before the potential heat wave. The Blue Knights wore full pads Monday. On Tuesday, they’re likely to go just uppers.

“Whatever the trainers, the professional staff say we should do, we’re going to do,” Drury said. “We’re out here to win and get better, but also, we want to be safe in the meantime.”

The Korey Stringer Institute, which is on UConn’s campus, provides research and education on safety and sudden death prevention to athletes and coaches around the country and is named after the former NFL player who died after an exertional heatstroke following a Minnesota Vikings practice. The institute’s CEO, Doug Casa, said there are preventative measures teams should take from staying hydrated to avoiding practicing during the highest temperatures. Casa added that more can be done, including having cold water immersion tubs and instituting an emergency action plan. Maryland did not have cold water immersion tubs available.

Casa has been critical of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which governs high school athletics in the state, because it does not require either.

The CIAC, which could not be reached Monday, previously told The Courant it allows school districts to impose requirements.

“We’re not an association that imposes requirements such as trainers at every single event, or requires certain [weather] measurement systems, because frankly we think that districts are best able to decide what’s appropriate for them and, truthfully, what they can afford,” then-CIAC executive director Karissa Niehoff said, adding that the CIAC requires education for parents and student-athletes on concussions and cardiac arrest.

According to Daniels, Glastonbury has taken matters into its own hands. All preseason, a cold water immersion tub was up in the locker room for players. He, the athletic director and principal are constantly in contact and checking the heat index level. Casa said some other schools have followed suit.

Bellucci said when he was a player in the early 1970s, water breaks weren’t a thing, and they’d be running around in the upper 90s with full pads and helmets on. Even then, he thought something wasn’t right. Daniels echoed Bellucci’s thoughts on the way the game used to be played.

“Our player safety is our No. 1 concern, period,” Daniels said. “The old school days of running through doubles and all that stuff — those days are over.”

Source: Hartford Courant

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