There have been plenty of advancements in athletic training since Naperville Central head athletic trainer Mark Florence played football at Elk Grove and North Central College in the 1990s.
As a trainer, he’s seen the advancements first hand.
“Definitely over the past five years, you name an injury, it’s changed,” Florence said. “Heat is the big one now.”
With heat safety always a concern at the start of football practices across the state this week, the IHSA decided to put the issue in the forefront this summer.
In June, the IHSA introduced a policy entitled Specific Guidelines for Managing Head and Heat Illness for use in state series events. The IHSA Board of Directors also urge schools to follow the guidelines in non-state series events, and the majority of high schools in the Chicago area have done just that, and many have been doing it for years. The full text is available at IHSA.org.
At Geneva, for example, head trainer Bill Durand and former athletic director Jim Kafer put a similar policy together eight years ago that was approved by the school board, protocol similar to what the IHSA has put together.
“It comes down to how educated the athletic departments are,” Durand said. “We put (our policy) in place in 2008. It’s still in our coaches’ handbook. Nothing really crazy, just making sure that the coaches are aware of it, making sure they give enough water breaks, cut the practices down in the heat, just being smart.”
Oswego coach Brian Cooney and his staff have always been on top of that, and the new IHSA policy does nothing to change that.
“You put your kids first and it all falls into place,” Cooney said. “We’re proactive about it. To me, you apply common sense. When it feels hot, it’s too hot. For coaches, you get sucked into the x’s and o’s, so it’s nice having somebody keeping an eye on the weather. It’s nice having these procedures in place and people that help.”
Prior to this IHSA policy, the decision to cut practice time or get off the field all together was an inexact science. Heat index and air temperature were the general guides as to when to lighten up at practice.
The IHSA, teaming with the Korey Stringer Institute, have turned to science for a more exact system.
The new way of measuring heat stress is the WetBulb Globe Temperature Index. It takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover and it then breaks the number down into different categories to determine what action, if any, athletic trainers and coaches need to take.
The categories range from green, which is status quo, to black, which would cause the cancellation of a practice or game.
“That’s been a big thing with athletic trainers, are we having the proper ways of handling emergency situations?,” said Florence, who stressed that proper hydration by athletes makes a huge impact, as well. “It is 100 percent preventable. There shouldn’t be Korey Stringer incidents (the former Vikings lineman who died in a heat-related incident).”
For coaches, practice planning is critical to get all the all of the things they want to accomplish done while keeping the safety of players at the forefront at the same time.
“You have to put people before the product,” Cooney said. “You can get done what you need to get done; you just have to change how you do it. It’s just a matter of being flexible. Play it safe, put the kids first.”
— As fall sports practice open, heat and humidity among top concerns —