High School Football

Area prep football coaches cautious as practice begins in intense heat

No longer are getting those extra few sips of water viewed as a sign of weakness.

With the start of high school football practice today in South Carolina - and with temperatures just shy of record highs - area coaches will be concerned with hydration nearly as much as playbooks. Practice schedules have changed to get players inside during the hottest parts of the day, and water breaks are not only encouraged, but mandatory.

After a rash of football deaths around the country attributed to practicing in extreme heat at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, coaches and players alike now understand exactly what skipping that water could mean.

"When I started 13 years ago, water wasn't even mentioned," Aynor coach Jody Jenerette said. "Those deaths opened a lot of people's minds to heat-related incidents."

The South Carolina High School League, the governing body of prep sports in the Palmetto State, recommends players be given approximately a 10-minute water break for every 20 minutes of vigorous activity.

It has also set guidelines for making sure schools are prepared not only to prevent heat stroke or dehydration, but also how to handle it should the situation arise.

A recent coaching clinic in Greenville included a seminar on hydration and the High School League regularly reminds and updates coaches and trainers on the best methods to protect players.

For many coaches, it starts by adjusting practice times. Most teams are done with their first practice by 11:30 a.m., or they simply wait for the sun to start setting before taking the field.

"Those days of trying to be hard and going in the middle of the day are over," Carolina Forest coach Drew Hummel said. "It's not like it was 20-30 years ago."

At Loris, for example, the team's first practice was scheduled for 12:01 a.m. this morning. The Lions will then go again at 6 p.m.

It isn't simply about air temperature. Relative humidity, radiant heat and air movement are also factors. The right combinations for extreme heat exist nearly every August afternoon in South Carolina.

Athletic trainers monitor those conditions constantly, and at any time they approach preset limits, practice is either moved intoa gym or classroom or cancelled.

Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson said if the staff has done its job in the offseason, those minutes shaved off the practice field can be compensated for in advance. Training in the spring and early summer can help reduce the shock factor of going outside in late July and August.

"The better strength they're in, the more helpful it is in this heat," Wilson said.

Area coaches have also made sure to preach water intake throughout the day, whether the players are in practice or not.

Wilson said his team takes breaks every 8-12 minutes during practice. During an hourlong break every morning during camp, players down plenty of water, Gatorade and fruit before going back out on the field for the last hour.

For the most part, the strategy has worked among area schools. Most coaches said the worst conditions they've seen with players in the past three years have been light dizziness and mild dehydration.

None have lost players for significant time because ofheat-related illness.

"Football's important; getting ready is important," Jenerette said. "It doesn't trump the safety of our players."