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Georgia Adopts New Heat-Acclimatization Rules for Youth Athletes

The Georgia High School Association revised its rules regarding sports practices in heat and humidity on Monday, limiting the amount of time that coaches can expose youth athletes to extreme conditions.

The decision was at least partially in response to a recent study that found an average of three football players nationally dying from heat-related causes each year over the past 15 years, after averaging only roughly one per year before. Georgia led the nation with six heat-related deaths over that 15-year period.

Just last year, three youth-football players died due to heat-related causes all within a span of a week. Two of the three students attended high schools in Georgia, although one of the Georgia players died at a football camp in Lake City, Fla.

Now, in the first week of football practice, Georgia schools may not hold practices for longer than two hours, and players can only wear helmets and mouthpieces in that first week. After the first week, a player may practice in full pads, twice a day, only if he has gone through five conditioning practices wearing only a helmet and mouthpiece, and if the total practice time that day doesn't exceed five hours.

Any time a coach wishes to hold two preseason football practices in one day, he must provide at least a three-hour rest period for his athletes between each practice. Coaches are now banned from holding two-a-day practices on consecutive days, too.

These policies stemmed from the 2009 "Preseason Heat-Acclimatization Guidelines for Secondary School Athletics" issued by the National Athletic Trainers' Association. It's believed to be the first time the GHSA has established restrictions on practice time, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"We wanted to develop a policy that would be practical and allow student-athletes exposure to the environmental conditions but be as safe as possible," said Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the GHSA, in a statement. "We are confident that we are taking the right steps and passing the right measures to provide the best care for our young athletes."

Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas have all adopted the NATA preseason heat-acclimatization guidelines in the past year, according to the organization.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released similar guidelines for managing student-athletes in extreme heat last August.

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