Heat is biggest opponent as football practice begins

  • Blackville-Hilda High offensive lineman Darius Washington, #74, cools off during Friday’s practice.

It’s almost time for high school football again, but before we get a chance to kickoff “Friday Night Lights”, players must go through weeks of preparation.

That preparation - better known as practice time - officially began Friday, July 28 across the state as teams started workouts amid a recent heat wave added with humidity that has kept temperatures in the triple digits.

A study by Andrew J. Grundstein, an associate professor in the department of geography of the University of Georgia, reported that 123 high school football players died of heat-related illness between 1960 and 2009.

In fact, from 2005 to 2009, the National Center of Catastrophic Sports Injury Research in University of North Carolina reported 18 cases in which high school athletes and college athletes suffered fatal exertional heat stroke.

In 2008, Barnwell High’s football team was struck with a tragedy when offensive lineman James Wooden collapsed of a heat stroke on the practice field and later died.

With summer now in full swing and the training sessions kicking into gear, those reports and the memories of Wooden serve as stark reminders of the precautions that coaches and players need to take when practicing and playing in heat.

That makes the job of trainers like Rob Ross of Barnwell High and Andrea Ingram of Williston-Elko High incredibly important to their teams.

“Most players have been in the house in the air conditioning all summer so the biggest thing is trying to get them accumulated to the heat. We do that by starting slow with no helmets and shoulder pads for the first couple of days,” Ross said. “We also try to keep them hydrated with plenty of water and we give them frequent breaks.”

“The goal is to keep liquids in their system. We have several cold water stations and ice on hand,” Ingram said. “We’re constantly monitoring them on the field and we have an air conditioned building where they can go cool off.”

The coaches’ practice time decisions are also important when trying to beat the heat.

“We usually try to get out here early in the mornings before it gets too hot,” Barnwell High coach Dwayne Garrick said.

“I don’t like the heat either so I practice late in the afternoons. We do go hard at the start of practice and we give them a lot of water breaks,” Blackville-Hilda High coach David Berry said.

“We try to get out here early in them mornings and late in the afternoons,” Jefferson Davis Academy coach Michael Tindal said. “We have a lot of trees around our practice field so we practice a lot in the shaded areas. We also give the players plenty of water breaks.”