With fall youth-sports practices starting to kick off, we've seen a slew of tragic headlines over the past week regarding student-athlete deaths.
Forrest Jones, a student-athlete at Locust Grove (Ga.) High School, collapsed Monday while leaving a football field; he died Tuesday night at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, according to ESPN.com. Jones' father, Glenn, said that doctors told him that the collapse was heat-related. Don'terio J. Searcy of Fitzgerald (Ga.) High School also died following practice at a football camp in Lake City, Fla., on Tuesday morning, according to ESPN.
And Tyquan Xavier Brantley, a freshman at Lamar (S.C.) High School, died at a hospital on late Saturday after collapsing on the football field Saturday morning, according to scnow.com. Brantley began complaining of cramps, then collapsed. The temperature reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit on that afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
A large majority of heat-related illnesses in student-athletes occur in August, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 9,237 heat illnesses cause high school student-athletes to miss practice or game time on an annual basis, according to the CDC—most often during preseason football practices.
Ladies and gents, if you're in the South, chances are, you shouldn't even be outside right now. The National Weather Service issued heat advisories for parts of 16 states on Thursday, stretching from the southern tip of California to Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
But if you do have to hold sports practices outside in hot temperatures like these, the National Athletic Trainers' Association has a few tips on how to keep student-athletes safe.
NATA suggests that coaches acclimate their student-athletes to warm-weather activities over a 14-day period in order to boost their heat tolerance. It also recommends that every school sports team have an emergency action plan, with individual assignments and emergency equipment included.
While it's not specifically mentioned in NATA's back-to-school safety tips, it's also critical to ensure that student-athletes have proper access to water on a regular basis. For instance, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association mandates that when the heat index falls between 95 and 104 degrees, sports teams must provide ample water at all times during practices and must take 10-minute water breaks every 30 minutes.
The TSSAA prohibits teams from practicing when the heat index exceeds 105 degrees, and suggests that sports teams change their practice times—either to the early morning or late evening—to avoid the hottest portions of the day. Schools and athletic organizations could also restrict the amount of time a team can practice every day and limit the number of 2-a-days.
Ultimately, it comes down to coaches taking responsibility for their players and being aware of the physical rigors of vigorous exercise in swelteringly hot conditions. While a recent study came out saying a number of head-trauma-related deaths were preventable with better equipment and guidelines, the same might be said for heat-related illnesses in student-athletes.
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