Rules don't protect high school athletes from extreme heat
Heisman trophy winner and top draft pick Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers cools down after training camp last week at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
August 4th, 2011
12:37 PM ET

Rules don't protect high school athletes from extreme heat

There are no nationwide rules written to protect high school athletes from sudden death due to hot weather.

Two high school football players in Georgia collapsed and died on August 2 after practice. This makes at least three possibly heat-related deaths on high school football fields in the past week.

Atlanta Public Schools on Wednesday banned all outdoor student activities until after 6 p.m. through the end of the week because of high heat and humidity in the region. The restriction covers all grades at all schools and includes football, other sports and band practices. Many coaches and band directors have moved practices indoors, the district said.

"We think it was the worst week in the last 35 years in terms of athlete deaths," said Dr. Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute of health medicine at the University of Connecticut and author of the book "Preventing Sudden Death in Sports and Physical Activity."

Korey Stringer was a Minnesota Vikings player who died of heat stroke in 2001. His widow, Kelci Stringer, worked with Casa to create the institute to improve prevention.

"The problem stems from one thing ... it's football coaches," Casa said. "There's no regulation for [high school] football coaches in our country."

There is the National Federation of State High School Associations that governs high school sports, and several states have issued guidelines on heat training to high schools.

"But unfortunately, they are powerless," Casa said. "It's not like the NCAA, where they mandate rules and the colleges have to follow them. The high school association can make some recommendations, but they don't have any power or teeth to have those policies actually implemented."

Casa said a task force made up of professionals from the top medical organizations in the country came together three years ago and produced a set of guidelines similar to those of the NCAA. The NCAA guidelines have been in place for eight years and there's been only one heat-related death on a college football field since then.

One guideline is to have an athletic trainer on the field at all times - a person trained in sports medicine who can not only recognize the signs of heat-related issues but also treat them.

During August football practices in extreme heat, Casa said, most high schools have only the coaches on the field.

"So the coach is the one actually caring for these kids when they're in a life-or-death situation, which should scare the living daylights out of every parent in our country," he said.

Some high schools have put these guidelines into practice. At Bishop Alemany High School in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, where temperatures during August practices reach more than 100 degrees, head coach Dean Herrington says they do have a trainer on the field and more.

"We have a water trough on the side and our players know they can (use it) at any time during practice," he said.

Casa says it's not just about water.

"Heat strokes are completely survivable," he said. All that may be needed is an immersion in a cold-water tub or pool. An athlete who is immediately cooled can survive, but many schools and coaches just call 911, he said. Casa said while they wait for an ambulance the brain and vital organs continue to cook in the heat. The body can only withstand such extreme conditions for about 30 minutes.

Casa said until parents demand more specific and enforced rules for high school sports, these kinds of unnecessary tragedies will continue.

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Filed under: Football • Health • Heat • Sports • Weather
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Thing1

    This really ticks me off. How many kids have to fall over dead before there are some regulations? How has this slipped through the cracks?Even if they initiate the process of creating regulations, how many more kids will collapse before they get through all the red tape?

    August 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. VONNE HUTTO RN

    High School athletes are still children.....their judgement is often limited. It is absurd to expect them to know when they should leave the heat. It is up to the staff and coaches, that we the parents entrust with our childrens lves, to protect them from the heat and themselves. As an ER nurse I have repeatedly seen these children that were put in harm's way by coaches whose focus is "training to win". There needs to be strict rules for excercising kids in heat....esp a temp max when they can no longer be outside and 30 min hydration breaks where the coaches and staff can check the kids for elevated body temps and pulse rates......we are leaving the lives of our children at risk by doing nothing

    August 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*veronica

      Coach said today we don't have to use air condition it's my way or the highway temps today 95 . I walked into gym and it took my breath away. Tennessee Decatur a High School . I spoke with school board they just told me it's up to coach to turn on air .

      May 28, 2014 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy

    These deaths are completly avoidable.
    Any coach who doesn't recognize a kid struggling with heat exhaustion isn't fit to be in charge of a team.
    Period.
    No "Friday Night Lights" are worth a kid's life!

    August 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CSnSC

    Cant say J apan here but that garbage is just fine huh CNN ? Maybe the filters could use a tweak.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy

    Japan

    Ha!

    August 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Well......

    There shouldn't have to be any regulations [aws] just good common sence. but, there are too many coaches out there that are too gu_ng h_o that will berate a player who may complain that it is too hot. There should be some accountabilty.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fernace

    These kinds of deaths have happened each year since I was a teenager, which was a long time ago! When are we going to get serious about prevention!? It's almost like the deaths are treated as freak individual accidents, instead of specific, related & preventable incidents! I don't care if highschool football doesn't have a national regulation committee, is that truly necessary for adults to behave with some common sense!? Education is key & what better place than a school! The athlete/students need extensive training in overheating prevention, right along with the coaches! If a coach has incidents of heat exhaustion/stroke, suspend/fire him/her, what ever method parents vote for! If a child dies from heatstroke, the coach should automatically be charged with manslaughter! This way maybe we can get serious about these preventable deaths, that happen to our athlete kids each year!

    August 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. gumby

    Fully agree fernace. Took the words right out of my mouth.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jj

    yea this is pretty crazy! its 115 degrees tODAY IN arizona and you can bet ur butt these crazy coaches will have these kids practicing in it! WOW!

    August 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. T

    I agree with all of you, but none of you have brought the parents into the equation. When are parents going to tell their children (be it high school football players, or not), "I love you, and it is too hot for you to play football outside today. People die in this kind of heat." This could be followed up by calling the coach. What's worse, a player dying or your kid not getting to be the starting line up?

    August 4, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. little miss beauty pageant mom

    yes..as a mom I agree,we should be by our childrens side at all times!!especially during proms,thats when things get out of control..with their loud music,spiked punches,and boys forcing themselves upon our daughters!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. s kel

    too much "win at any cost" parents out there ,and it cost them their childrens lives. how sad.

    August 5, 2011 at 4:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. Henry

    Tough out there

    August 5, 2011 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
  14. TexasChick

    Here in TX there are rules/regulations. UIL is the law here, and you can bet that those kids won't be outside practicing in 100 degree heat at the high school my husband coaches at. And btw, there is always a trainer out on the field with them whether it be practice or game. It doesn't really matter what I say however. I forget that y'all are parents, and in your head high school coaches care about winning...at any cost, or think your kid is God's gift to whatever sport they play :)

    August 22, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. Name*veronica

    Coach said today we don't have to use air condition it's my way or the highway temps today 95 . I walked into gym and it took my breath away. Tennessee Decatur a High School . I spoke with school board they just told me it's up to coach to turn on air .

    May 28, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |