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Feeling the heat: Football coaches applaud extra precautions for players safety

Posted at 10:41 AM, Aug 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-24 11:41:11-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When longtime Rockhurst High coach Tony Severino was in high school, football practice didn't include much water.

"We used to walk out and they would have salt-tablet bins and we used to grab them and take them," Severino said.

Fast forward half a century — literally — and Severino remains involved with high school football, but much around him has changed.

Salt bins have been replaced with water bottles and the overall approach to practice by coaches also is dramatically different with a greater focus on player health and safety.

"You just have to have common sense," Severino said.

Unfortunately, many of the changes are in large part due to tragedies like the one that occurred three months ago with the University of Maryland football team.

Terrapins offensive lineman Jordan McNair was hospitalized in May after a workout with a body temperature of 106 degrees. He died two weeks later.

"The university accepts legal and moral responsibility," University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said in a remarkable press conference about the school and football program's failures.

Despite the school's contrition, an investigation has been launched into not only the Terrapins training staff's actions the day McNair became ill but also the culture of the program as a whole.

Terrapins coach DJ Durkin has been placed on administrative leave.

Coaches in Kansas City, including Jon Holmes with the four-time reigning state champion Bishop Miege football program, said it's a worst-nightmare scenario.

"It (player safety) is always on the backs of our minds as coaches," Holmes said.

Like Severino, Holmes remembers a scarcity of water breaks during his playing days, but things have now changed.

"We tell our players, if they need a drink, pop their helmet off and go get a drink," Holmes said.

Players at Park Hill have a personal water bottle with them at all times during practice, which not only helps with hydration but actually makes practice more efficient, too.

"It used to be, you had to run to get water back in the day," Trojans coach Josh Hood said. "But now water is a constant."

Hood also praised the Missouri State High School Activities Association heat policies, including an acclimatization policy for fall sports as practice ramps up during the dog days of August..

"The state does a good job with their heat-acclimation rules and we've adhered to them as we always do," Hood said.

For several years now, both Missouri and Kansas have required teams to ease their way into the fall sports season with rules that require five practices before pads come on and limit two-a-days among other guidelines.

This year, the same heat-acclimatization rules applied to summer workouts.

"It really starts months in advance," Blue Valley North coach Andy Sims said.

The Mustangs' staff preaches a 365-day hydration, nutrition, and fitness program, which is designed to ensure Sims' players are prepared physically for those hot August practices.

Both states have rules requiring practice modifications when the heat index reaches 90 degrees or higher.
"KSHSAA (Kansas State High School Activities Association) does a good job having every coach take a heat illness class every year," Holmes said.

During the last 10 years, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina, there have been 30 heat-related deaths in amateur football — 24 among high school players and six among college players.

"You've just got to be smart," Severino said. "If you're hot as coaches, they're gonna be hot as players."