Georgia program handles and manages the issue of heat-related deaths in high school

Georgia program handles and manages the issue of heat-related deaths in high school

Georgia program handles and manages the issue of heat-related deaths in high school: High school football teams around the country have started training this time of year, including the Cedar Grove Saints.

Georgia program handles and manages the issue of heat-related deaths in high school: High school football teams around the country
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On a hot and humid morning, players were doing drills on the field behind their suburban Atlanta high school and the head coach John Adams gave them guidance and encouragement.

This team is a good team as they have won four state titles in the past six years. The four former Saints were a part of the NFL draft this past year. This is more than other high schools in the country.

Adams was excited about the season coming next. But he was sure to be watchful about keeping the athletes safe as they worked out in the Atlanta heat.

“The heat has been to a point where it is hard on anybody,” he said. “But I think if you condition consistently in the heat, you kind of get used to it.”

He constantly reminds the students to drink enough water even on days they are not practicing. They are allowed to take longer breaks. And he said he checks on them during practice, to make sure they are not affected by the heat.

Football and the dangers of heat

Football players have started practicing at the hottest time of year. Many are rehearsing on turf fields roasting under direct sun. They wear many layers of equipment, especially the linemen – they are big. All these can add up to a dangerous situation.

But in the last decade, Georgia has taken the charge in hand. Experts say it has bucked the trend of rising numbers of players who suffered from heat illness. And the rules have become a model for other states looking in order to protect student-athletes from the heat.

The steps to protect the students are all the more important as climate change drives up temperatures and humidity.

Cedar Grove’s practice was littered with water bottles. The students took five-minute water breaks together. Adonijah Green, a 17-year-old defensive end, said athletes are allowed to get a drink whenever they need one.

“We are able to hydrate anytime with no restrictions on the water,” he said.

And the players did not wear their pads yet. In late July, they got used to working out in the heat, with fewer practices, less contact, no tackling allowed, and without all their equipment.

“With the pads, it gets hot, it gets heavy,” Green said. “It tires you down.”

These steps are not just policies at Cedar Grove. The Georgia High School Association has made it mandatory to have a five-day ramp-up period without pads as teams begin training.

Athletes are allowed to hydrate whenever they need to. The rules prevent the coaches to make the students do drills as punishment.

During the hotter part of the year, teams are required to measure the wet bulb globe temperature. This factors in not only heat and humidity, but also when it is sun exposure, before and during practice. Depending on that reading, longer breaks are given. At high temperatures, teams will be prepared to immerse a player in an ice bath if needed.

If it gets even hotter, outside practice is prevented. If the wet bulb globe temperature hits 92, outside practice is prohibited.

A high-profile heat-related death of a high school football player led the association to make a change.

“What is unique about Georgia,” Stearns said, “is that the rules are based on data and research. Other states have been able to adapt Georgia’s model to protect their student-athletes, too.”

According to Stearns, 30 states made it mandatory for some kind of policy around heat. A dozen states have based their policy on the wet bulb globe temperature.

Experts underscored that death from heat stroke is preventable, but teams have to keep themselves prepared. They should be able to recognize its symptoms. They should know how to treat anyone suffering from it as quickly as possible. They should know how to cool their bodies down before transporting them anywhere.

For parents of student-athletes, Stearns said they should comfortably ask what their school’s or state’s heat policies are.

Cedar Grove’s Coach Adams said, “The key is to plan ahead, be smart with practices, and always keep the best interests of the students in mind.”
“They are kids. So, you know, sometimes kids are just going to try to toughen it out. But you got to be smart,” he said. “Life is more important than football.”

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