SAN ANTONIO – High school football teams should eliminate two-a-day practices during the first week of August drills when heat stroke has proven particularly deadly, a leading trainers' group said Thursday in a report issued less than two months before the sweltering rite of passage begins at thousands of schools.
The National Association of Athletic Trainers said its recommendations, which include longer breaks between practice and more time for players to ease into contact drills, are not radical changes and closely mirror policies already in place at the Division I college level.
They also pointed to the death of a 15-year-old Kentucky boy last August after he collapsed on the first day of practice. Prosecutors charged his coach with reckless homicide in an unusual case of a coach being held criminally responsible for a player's death.
"Thing aren't going very well at the high school level. We've had a couple very bad years," said Douglas Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the report for the Dallas-based association. "This wasn't done for the convenience of coaches."
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The executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, D.W. Rutledge, said he declined an invitation to appear at a news conference announcing the proposals. Rutledge, who won four state championships in Texas, said he first wanted to review the guidelines with his membership.
Scaling back on two-a-days amounts to lost preparation time, he said, and that's something that could concern coaches in football-crazed Texas.
Since 1995, at least 39 football players across all levels have died from heat-related causes and most of those cases happened in early August, said Dr. Frederick Mueller, director of the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.
At least 42 states have some sort of heat illness-prevention guidelines, said David Csillan, an athletic trainer at Ewing High School in Ewing, N.J., and report co-author. He said the recommendations put forth are geared toward better acclimating high school students across all sports to the heat.
Many of the proposals are stricter versions of rules already in place. In Florida, contact drills are prohibited during the first three days of practice. Under the recommendations by the athletic trainers association, teams shouldn't begin full contact until the sixth day of practice.
In Texas, schools must take a minimum one-hour break between practice during two-a-days. The report calls for a minimum three-hour rest, and would limit the second practice of two-a-days during the first week to only a light walkthrough without helmets or pads.
Rutledge said a three-hour break could actually force players into the heat, since some teams start practice early as 6:30 a.m. to avoid the hottest parts of the day. He also stood by the current guidelines that Texas coaches follow.
"Our coaches take it seriously, and do a good job with it," Rutledge said.
In Kentucky, the death of football player Max Gilpin prompted state lawmakers to enact tougher safety laws for prep players. Kentucky high school coaches must now pass an athlete safety course that is expected to go online later this month.
Gilpin's coach, David Jason Stinson, has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide and is scheduled for trial in August.
Curbing severe cases of heat illness was a prominent topic at the athletic trainers' convention in San Antonio. Also Thursday, a Georgia-based company unveiled a tiny heat sensor that can be placed inside a football helmet to monitor a player's body temperature.
Jay Buckalew, founder of Hothead Technologies Inc., said the system warns coaches and athletic trainers when an athlete is becoming dangerously overheated. But at about $99 a helmet, the price is likely to be prohibitive to many school districts.
On the Net:
National Association of Athletic Trainers: http://www.nata.org
NATA Guidelines: http://www.nata.org/jat/readers/archives/44.3/attr-44-03-332.pdf