Area teams try to tackle the heat

Published 3:46 pm Monday, August 11, 2008

By By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
The mornings were a sweltering mix of heat and high-humidity. By mid-afternoon the scorching summer sun became almost unbearable as the mercury level crept toward the triple-digit mark.
The peak of the United States’ summer season was in full swing last week, but even the miserable August weather couldn’t put the brakes on one of the most anticipated weeks of the year, as high schools and colleges across the nation delved into preseason football practice.
The first week of football practice is always a concern to coaches and trainers as the players try to become acclimated to the high temperatures. This is the most dangerous time of the season for heat-related illnesses and death.
Since 1995, 33 players (25 high school, five college, two professionals, and one sandlot) have succumbed to heat stroke and died on the football field. All but one occurred during the first three days of practice.
After five deaths in 2006, the number of heat-related football deaths dipped to two last season as a pair of high school players lost their lives.
According to Frederick O. Mueller, Ph.D., a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, that’s still too many.
Each year, Mueller compiles the Annual Survey of Football Injuries, a long-running report that tracks major injuries and deaths in football players on middle school, high school, college, and professional teams.
And each year, Mueller shakes his head in disbelief when he begins compiling the stats on heat-related deaths.
Mueller says that some of the signs to watch for in heat stroke are the absense of sweating, dry skin, confusion, rapid pulse and odd behavior
Mueller advises a medical examination for each player. Overweight players and those with a history of heat-related illness are more susceptible to heatstroke. He suggests weighing players before and after practice. A three percent loss in body weight through sweating is safe. More than five percent is the danger zone.
Over at ECU, Hanley is well aware of the dangers of heat stroke.
Today, football coaches across the country are increasingly aware of the risks of heat-related illness.
It’s a far cry from the days of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who in 1954 took more than 100 Texas A&M players to Junction, Texas where he began weeding out the weak ones. In oppressive heat, combined with brutal practices schedules, Bryant refused to allow water on his football field in an attempt to find the toughest group he could. After 10 days, Bryant returned to back to college station with just 27 players. Most of the players dropped because of the unbearable conditions. Future NFL coach Jack Pardee later admitted that it was fairly common to lose up to 10 percent or your body weight in a single day during that stretch.
Coaches also monitor the humidity level and field temperatures.
Most area teams have also adjusted their practice schedules to avoid practicing at the hottest times of the day.