As the calendar flips to August, the excitement of another high school football season is felt around the state. But with it comes concern about the welfare of the thousands of players who will practice in helmets and pads in the intense heat and humidity of Georgia.
Georgia High School Association executive director Ralph Swearngin said the current heat rules and regulations appear to be working. So far, Swearngin said, there have been no heat-related incidents reported to the GHSA, although schools are not required to do so.
“There are no set guidelines about contacting us,” Swearngin said. “In an emergency situation, there is so much going on and so much that must be done for the safety of the student-athlete involved that contacting us is not (a priority). From our standpoint, (schools) can just contact us when they are able to.”
The GHSA’s heat policy was based on one that was adopted by the NCAA seven years ago. Several experts in the area of exercise science and sports medicine participated in the creation of the policy, including Earl R. “Bud” Cooper and Ron Courson of the University of Georgia. The key aspect of the GHSA’s heat policy, adopted three years ago, is the stipulation that players must go through a five-day heat acclimation process in which they are only able to work out in helmets and shorts. After five days, a player may work out in full pads.
Additionally, every school must have a wet-bulb glove temperature (WBGT) gauge that measures heat and humidity. Along with frequent rest and water breaks, there are various other stipulations that must be followed once a certain WBGT level is reached:
At 87 degrees, the maximum practice time is two hours, and players are restricted to wearing helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. All conditioning must be done with all protective equipment removed. This year a stipulation was added allowing players to continue practicing in their football pants if the reading hits 87 during the workout.
At 90, the maximum practice time is one hour with no protective equipment being worn during the workout. No conditioning activities are allowed.
At 92, no outdoor activity is allowed until the reading falls below 92.
“We’re in the second year of a three-year study of our policy, and things appear to be going well,” Swearngin said. “We will evaluate the findings in the study and see if we need to make adjustments. It was presented at a national conference this summer and was received very positively, so I think we’re in good shape.”
Here is how a sampling of high school coaches in Georgia deal with the heat:
Mike Earwood, in his fourth season at Our Lady of Mercy, has been dealing with football in Georgia heat since he and his defensive coordinator, Glenn Griffin, were teammates at North Clayton in the early 1970s:
“The key is getting the kids acclimated to the heat as much as you can over the summer. Some people say that the kids are softer these days. To me, it’s just that we didn’t have air conditioning back then, so everything we did was in the heat. Another thing is that practices are structured more like college now, where kids are getting more reps. Back in my day you had one long line for one drill, so we got more rest. Now, you’ve got three or four lines going for one drill, so kids get less recovery. They key is taking your breaks and making sure you water your kids down as much as you can.”
Jeff Herron is in his first season at Prince Avenue Christian near Athens, after 13 seasons in South Georgia at Camden County:
“We didn’t have any problems down there because we kept our kids extremely active over the summer, so that they could get used to the heat. It gets hot all over Georgia, whether you’re in Athens or in Camden County. The key is making sure your kids are active all summer.”
Bryan Love is in his first season as a head coach, at Westlake, after several seasons as an assistant at several schools:
“I think it’s important to stress to your kids and parents the importance of eating and drinking the right things before you come to practice and when you go home. You have to educate them on the process, especially your kids because teenagers like to drink sodas and fruit drinks so much. You have to stress how important it is to drink water.”
Kyle Hockman is in his sixth season at McEachern, where he is getting his team prepared for its opener against Brookwood in the Corky Kell Classic on Aug. 24:
“It’s early, but it’s an honor to play in this game, just an awesome opportunity. We keep our kids active in the summer so they get conditioned and get used to the heat. We’re trying to install things so we know what we’re doing. You want to get the most out of your players while making sure that their safety is the first thing.”