Football practice and heat: A dangerous combination

Is it safe to hold sports practices in this heat? (AJC file)

Is it safe to hold sports practices in this heat? (AJC file)

UPDATE Wednesday at 11:  School districts are responding to the heat concerns. Cobb, Cherokee, Henry and Decatur have ceased all outdoor practices from noon to 6.

UPDATE Wednesday at 3:30: The Georgia High School Association has issued a statement on the death of two Georgia players Tuesday from what is believed to be heat-related illnesses.

Every high school sports program in the state is probably discussing its summer practice routines now that heat stroke is being cited as a possible reason why two Georgia players died yesterday.

While former high school players contend that they used to practice in the sweltering summer heat, experts counter that temperatures today are higher, air quality is worse and sports are more competitive

According to the AJC:

A 16-year-old Fitzgerald High School defensive lineman died Tuesday morning following practice at a facility in northern Florida.

DJ Searcy, a rising junior, was found unresponsive in his cabin at O’Leno State Park in Columbia County, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.  He was taken to a local hospital but resuscitation efforts failed. According to the National Weather Service, the heat index for Lake City, Fla., reached 109 degrees Tuesday.

Searcy’s death came the same day Locust Grove High School center Forest Jones, 16, died after suffering a heat stroke following practice last week.

After a teen football player died in Florida, the Miami Herald ran a story Monday about athletes’ deaths, quoting from the book “Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity.”

According to the Herald story:

Between 1982 and 2009, there were 756 deaths from all causes among high school and college athletes. The vast majority were high school athletes, many of them football players.The book highlights the deficiencies for keeping athletes safe during practices and competition, and offers extensive instruction on how to improve conditions. For example, only about half of all high schools have athletic trainers on staff, usually because of budgetary constraints, according to Douglas Casa, who edited the book, though many schools somehow find the money to pay several football coaches.

As high school football players head back to the fields this August, “that should scare … any parent in America,” Casa said. Casa’s organization, the Korey Stringer Institute, says only one state, New Jersey, follows guidelines for acclimating high school athletes after a summer off. The institute was named for the Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman who collapsed and died of heat stroke in 2001.

With heat illnesses accounting for such a large portion of deaths among high school athletes, no football field should be without a tub of water and bags of ice for emergency cooling this summer, Casa said. Casa, who nearly died of heat stroke while competing in a 1985 high school track championship, offers this broad guideline: “When something feels different, when something feels strange, when something feels out of the ordinary, back down on your intensity.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

241 comments Add your comment

we lost our way

August 2nd, 2011
6:39 pm

If the schools in Georgia would not start football or band practice until after Sept.1,a majority of these type deaths would not happen.August in Georgia is the hottest month of the year. I know they must practice several weeks before the season starts.Make the season start around the middle or end of September.End the season in the middle of December(includes playoffs) What is more important a childs life or football practice?By the way,can you imagine what it is like in South Georgia this time of year.


August 2nd, 2011
6:52 pm

My Senior is practicing from 7 am to 1 pm every day. Conditioning is the last part of practice. Players are falling out, dizzy from the heat and close I fear to tragedy like the ones described here.

Football Dad

August 2nd, 2011
7:06 pm

Sad state of affairs….The primary reason for these deaths are the supplements that our children are taking to become bigger and stronger without the proper precautions….

Legend of Len Barker

August 2nd, 2011
7:08 pm

As of a few years ago, the GHSA mandated that the regular season cannot start before the first week of September.

Something needs to be done because even up here in near-north Georgia, it’s brutal (and I’m from deep south Georgia and usually consider the heat here mild). But you’d have to shift everything.

Georgia schools used to open right at Labor Day. Now, they’re starting in early Augusta. Driving through Vienna a few years ago, the marquee for one of the Dooly County schools advertised a mid-*July* start date. Ridiculous. The shift came because colleges switched to the semester system, which opens the Fall doors in mid-August and schools/teachers trying to extend their education/get re-certified were having a devil of a time synchronizing schedules.

Plus, with the GHSA expanding playoffs, you can’t get away with starting the playoffs in mid-November anymore. And unlike basketball, the GHSA has a rule where you can only play one game per week, few exceptions allowed. The regular season is 11 weeks, off-week included. A state champion plays five more games. That’s four months solid of football.

But of course the GHSA isn’t going to cut back on playoffs. Too much money to be made.

Bleed red

August 2nd, 2011
7:09 pm

The school system share a big part by starting school a month early plus they put all the cost on the parents and from what I seen over 10years it hasten help test scores when school have to cheat own test result I say it time for a regime change in this state

Reid Dickulous

August 2nd, 2011
7:10 pm

Sure, the POWERS THAT BE pushed the start of school earlier and earlier. My child is the LAST DROPOFF on a Henry County un-air-conditioned afternoon bus route and she gets home at about 5:15pm. But hey, this BALANCED CALANDER sure seemed to make sense back a few years ago didn’t it?

We can LEARN from history, or we’re doomed to repeat it. There was a GREAT reason why we started school AFTER Labor day. The blood of this young man who might not make it should STAIN the hands of the Henry County BOE.


August 2nd, 2011
7:16 pm

Is football and keeping to a schedule is worth a child’s life? Parents, put your collective foot down and get the entire schedule (including play-offs!) moved back so practice can start in mid-September. Even though this is the football crazy South. I seriously doubt school systems are going to change start dates to accommodate football. I’m so glad I did’t have boys – with brain and heat injuries I would have said no to football.


August 2nd, 2011
7:17 pm

Sorry for all the errors – must be the heat!


August 2nd, 2011
7:18 pm

The problem, not just here, but in all education is that the decisions are made by adults FOR adults, or what is best for the adults (admin, teachers, and parents). Usually, the LAST consideration is what is best for kids. That’s why we get such boondoggles as open classrooms and block scheduling, among other things. When school started after Labor Day, it was cooler (band and football practice still started mid-August) and everyone knew when it started without having to consult the school system. However, to be fair, that system started because kids needed to be home for the crops.

state champion trainer

August 2nd, 2011
7:20 pm

@ football dad and others

the sole fault for any heat related injury or death is squarely on the coaching staff. for god sakes the adults on the field should have some common sense. Early morning practice for lifting and conditioning. Late evening practice for drill and walk throughs; practiceing late is more inline with normal HS game times anyway. frequent breaks and shade

our military works in heat extremes more than GA ; perhaps we need their specialist to come in and teach our “adults” how to do it

Too Hot

August 2nd, 2011
7:29 pm

Yes it is too hot to practice in this heat. Players should practice inside gymnasiums until the heat breaks. I have a son that plays. It concernse a lot. Coaches should require inside practices to protect ahletes from overheating.


August 2nd, 2011
7:37 pm

This is old news – every year since I moved here in the 1960s it seems at least one local HS football player has died from heat stroke. And how does the school system address the problem – they start school and football practice in the middle of the freakin summer! What’ll put a stop to it is one parent of a dead player getting a weather related court judgment against a school system.

Never entrust your beloved children to govt. stupidity.


August 2nd, 2011
7:38 pm

I’m a coach and I can tell you most of us are very worried about the heat. The times have changed and most coaches believe in frequent water breaks. Some of the blame goes to our society for this in my opinion. The reason for the rise in student related deaths in my opinion is kids rarely go outside in the heat during the summer months. Some kids show up to the first days of practice and it’s the first time they’ve been outside for longer than 30 minutes in months. I am just as guilty of wanting to stay in the AC though.


August 2nd, 2011
7:42 pm

Let me also say though that any coach that does not give frequent water breaks in this heat is plain out dumb. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the parents of these two kids. I hope the one kid continues to fight. I agree that we start school way to soon!

Fan of the Game

August 2nd, 2011
7:47 pm

There is this mentality that you need to go out and out do your opponent as far as practicing your team. Some coaches think it is impressive to have 4 practices a day and make kids lift weights. I had the pleasure of coaching with one of the greatest coaches in the state of Georgia. We may have two a days. There was no weight lifting during camp or early season practices in August. Morning started at 7:00 and evening started at 6:00 or 7:00. We didn’t really go to camp. Even though I think camp can be used for building Team. It is kind of like spring football. Alot of coaches say they have it just because everybody does it. It is a joke. Why can’t every sport have one if it is that important. Alot may have to do with the heat, but alot has to do with just flat out over doing it. Also all these supplements these kids are taking are alot of the blame.


August 2nd, 2011
7:54 pm

@state champ

As a former soldier who suffered through basic and jump school during the GA summer, I know the military trains in the heat (as they should) but the military also applies common sense. When the heat index exceeded 95 we’d shed our BDU tops and were required to consume 2 canteens of water/hour. The problem is shared all around, coaches need to MANDATE h2o consumption, parents need to EDUCATE kids on proper hydration and signs of dehydration as well as force them outside to acclimate to the temp, kids need to be proactive and know their bodies and not be afraid to tell coach “Hey, I need water and a rest”. The problem (and i remember the same issue 15yrs ago when i played HS ball) is these “old school, hard nosed” coaches who think they need to push kids to the limit to toughen them up and prove a point. Until coaches and school boards are held criminally responsible, this problem will continue. I would like to see a state law that limits outdoor activities during times of extreme heat or cold, as I’ve seen more people fall out from dehydration in cold weather than hot.


August 2nd, 2011
7:55 pm

Well I guess Paul “Bear” Bryant was DUMB! Come on Coach, please! Nobody wants kids to die… I am talking about High School kids and older… These kids need to be conditioned or in condition before they are allowed on the field. Period!


August 2nd, 2011
7:57 pm

There are several reasons this is happening. I played football in the late 80’s in Florida and lots of things have changed since I was in high school.
1. Football practice did not start till August 15th, and FLA had two a day practices. It’s too early in GA start school or start football practice on the 1st of the August.
2. Kids are out of shape and lazy these days. Kids are heavier then they were 20 years ago by 25 lbs to 50 lbs. A three hundred pound kid would show up every 6 or so years. Some schools have 3 on a roster. Kidsy do not run or swim enough much less any other cardo activity. Part of this is because they do not do work like cut the lawn. They sit all day watching TV or playing video games. Kids don’t even ride their bikes to school anymore. I don’t even see a bike rack and any school in Cherokee county.
3. Kids are not eating a good diet. Too much junk food and no vegetables in most kids diets. Parents are to blame for this too with their own diet.
4. Coaches are not allowed to condition kids over the summer. They need to know if the coaches need to know if the kids are ready to play or not.
5. Their needs to be an in-depth physical to play sports, including checking the heart for any issues.
6. There be a set of weather conditions kids are not allowed to practice in. If it get to a certain temperature/humidity practice is called off.
7. The kid’s body weight needs to be checked before and after practice.


August 2nd, 2011
8:10 pm

The school calendar here in the south is for the birds. All this nonsense about starting early so that finals can be taken before Christmas. Up north, school starts right after Labor Day, and finals ARE taken before Christmas. Do we really need a fall break and a whole week off at Thanksgiving? It is too hot for school to be in session. Forget recess with the little ones for the month of August. Are those who make up these idiotic calendars really thinking of the students?

D A DoubleU G

August 2nd, 2011
8:11 pm

I feel all summer practices should be held at night.

The vast, vast majority of high school games are played under the lights, so they do not need to put as much emphasis on training for the “heat of the afternoon games” like college players do.

Any time a player says he needs water, a coach should NEVER question him. If it’s obvious a kid is taking advantage of this rule and not getting the workout in, consequences should appear on the coach’s depth chart.

VERY sad situations today, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of both of the players who had incidents today.

ex aps teacher

August 2nd, 2011
8:14 pm

America is a crazy country! So much attention on sports, when the primary job of school is education.
Talk about messed up priorities!


August 2nd, 2011
8:16 pm

Not only do the kids staying inside all summer contribute to this, but it’s also their lack of hydrating themselves prior to the start of practice. Going out the first day of practice and feeling like you can hang tough is not realistic. Kids should be staying hydrated throughout the summer and conditioning themselves as well. Put down the sodas and energy drinks, and chug some water, Gatorade or Powerade. Parents, if you know your child is going to start practicing in the middle of the summer, take ownership in what they are eating and drinking. The thinking that it’s the coaches fault as to why kids are coming down with symptoms of a heat-related illness are simply ludicrous. It’s like those parents who blame teachers for their child failing. It’s not the coach’s responsibility to ensure your student is properly hydrating themselves throughout the summer. Parents, start taking ownership in your students and stop giving them everything they want. Force them to go outside for a little bit each day so they can start getting used to the heat. My parents did that to me and it helped.

I feel sorry for the kids in Fitzgerald and Locust Grove. And, I’m not familiar with their situations, so I won’t comment on them. But, I can say for most students who have a heat-related illness, it’s mainly due to their lack of hydration and not the time and dates of practice. Cross-country runners practice in the same heat as football players, but you rarely see anything on them getting a heat-related illness, although it does happen occasionally. The reason you rarely see this happen is because they realize the importance of hydrating themselves prior to the start of the practice season – plus, a lot are outside training during the offseason as well. You can say that they don’t have to deal with the pads football players do, and that’s a valid argument…but, that’s all the more reason for football players to get hydrated.

If you want to hold coaches criminally responsible for this happening, then you should hold the parents criminally responsible as well. They are just as much at fault as any coach since they aren’t making sure their kids are properly prepared for the start of the season. It’s just like everyone to place the blame on someone else because there’s no way in the world it can be their fault. Take ownership in your child and get involved. Don’t think someone else is going to babysit your high schooler.

Dr. Richard Handler

August 2nd, 2011
8:21 pm

Listen: every program takes precautions, they all know about the heat. I believe better physical testing and checkups must be taken before these young men are allowed to put on a uniform. So often we find out during an AUTOPSY a player may have had a heart condition or family history. check these young people thoroughly before allowing this to happen. But do not try and change the game.

Struggling Teacher

August 2nd, 2011
8:26 pm

If school started closer to Labor Day and the football practices and season would start a few weeks later, then maybe . . . . this sad conversation wouldn’t be happening as often.

Ginger RN MSN

August 2nd, 2011
8:26 pm

Too hot …Heat index too high period……I love football….but it is just not time to play particularly for HS kids. Kids don’t work in the fields like we used to growing up. We were used to big time heat. Nowadays migrant labor does most of the farm work. The semester system has changed things…We used to start school last week in August…Now school starts the 1st week in August….Global warming has changed things too.—Again—Too hot…Heat index too high period

Solutions—don’t start football until after Sept. 1st……..1 death is too many….much less multiple ones.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate with Gatoraide–not just water—got to replace electrolytes…..No practices in hotter times during day…..Outdoor Practices should be 06:30 am to 0830 am….and 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm at night…..there is plenty of work that can be do in AC weight room and film study, team meetings during the day.


August 2nd, 2011
8:27 pm

its up to the ghsa to put there foot down and not let the coaches hold practice if the heat index is over 95 deg. most of these coaches not only have them out there in helments and on turff but our coach has them out there from 2 pm – 8pm thats crazy!!!!!!!!! your asking for a child death! its common sense

Ginger RN MSN

August 2nd, 2011
8:28 pm

In so far as heart checks—good idea…trained medical personnel can listen to heart with stethoscope and hear some murmurs etc…but to thoroughly check heart would have to have stress test and/or echocardiogram–very expensive tests.


August 2nd, 2011
8:34 pm

I would never want a kid to die needlessly for the sake of a football game. When I was in high school during the mid 80’s, coaches would hold water over our heads like a prize to be obtained. These days we are in the process of destroying our youth, especially our young men. From the time he is 6 years old, he is constantly being reminded that his natural tendencies to rough-house and run are wrong. He is trained to be calm and still and comfortable. Then miraculously when he reaches the age of 12-13 we expect the genetically defiant ones to become gladiators for our entertainment. We yell and scream their names. We curse each other in the stands, and fight in the parking lots. All to let loose the frustrations and anger this “tolerant and calm” society have brought us, and them. Different topic, but case in point. There are no more childhood abductions by non parental abductors today, as a percentage of the population, than there was in 1964. The difference is modern culture, and 24 hour news that have convinced us that little Johnny can’t be out of our sight until he is 26 years old. Meanwhile we are subjecting our children to a life of real issues with obesity, and side issues like heat stroke (not to mention all of the other media related maladys that affect them), all to avoid an un-present boogey man.

Atlanta mom

August 2nd, 2011
8:35 pm

I agree with David “Kids are heavier then they were 20 years ago by 25 lbs to 50 lbs. A three hundred pound kid would show up every 6 or so years. Some schools have 3 on a roster”
And it’s not muscle on those 300 pound kids


August 2nd, 2011
8:45 pm

Hopefully both cases are just tragic events where no one is found negligent. Hopefully all administrators, coaches, and parents put safety as the top priority in these summer practices. No amount of wins on the football field is worth a young man’ s life. It’ s just a damn game, why people put winning games played by kids above all else is beyond comprehension…

And the truth is, almost all only idolize the uniform, cause if they wore a different uniform the same idiot who idolized him would hate him and curse his name. Yes, uniform worship is worth a man’s life.

we lost our way

August 2nd, 2011
8:47 pm

Most high schools in Georgia have 10 football games per season.3 or 4 more if they go to the State Champinship.Again,start the season mid-Sept or Late Sept.However make the season only eight (8) games per season.Then the playoffs will end in mid-December.Why did we ever get away from starting schools the day after Labor Day?

Gwinnett Fred

August 2nd, 2011
8:52 pm

What does a small “bubble” structure cost?

If thousands of dollars can be raised for new uniforms, wweight room equipment, etc. – isn’t it at least worth looking into?

Doesn’t have to be a full football field. A team could practice all that’s needed on something probably 60 yards long.

I may be off base and it cost hundreds of thousands, but just wondering out loud!


August 2nd, 2011
8:55 pm

Many different reasons cited contribute to the problems caused by the heat, earlier start dates, higher temperatures for longer periods of time, etc. but I also know that many of these athletes drink “energy” drinks which dehydrate them. The GHSA may have to implement hydration testing, mandatory heart scans for all athletes, required certified athletic trainers and more monitoring during practices.


August 2nd, 2011
8:55 pm


August 2nd, 2011
8:59 pm

Simple… State law moves the start date until after Labor Day… let’s school dismiss whenever they need to so they can let out in late June if they are so hooked on their balanced calendars.

EOCTs are moved to the end of January since the start date is moved up a month. That leaves nearly a month of time after xmas break to review.

Then we have far fewer hear related illnesses and deaths… come on Georgia… kids are dying because of school calendars!!! Is it really worth it?

I hope these parents sue. That’s all that admins hear sometimes.


August 2nd, 2011
9:00 pm

I have no scientific evidence to prove this theory, but could it be that kids are just less accustomed to the heat that say 25 years ago? Back in the day, we stayed outside dawn to dusk, drank water from a garden hose and probably weighed 20% less than kids today.

No video games, many houses were not air conditioned. I am convinced that I handled the heat much better then than I do now for the very same reasons. I spend very little time outdoors in the heat, and I have 20% too much fat.


August 2nd, 2011
9:01 pm

oops… “let school dismiss”.. .not let’s

and “heat related illnesses” not hear

Man… my fingers are not working today. Must be the heat.


August 2nd, 2011
9:01 pm





August 2nd, 2011
9:02 pm

16-week season counting one off-week and 5 rounds of playoffs (which is stupid, but what’s new GHSA?). Season starting in the first week of September would end in mid-late December. I remember quarterfinal rounds on Thanksgiving weekends that would ruin family trips.

I’m not sure why any high school program needs an off-week in a 10-week season, but I’m equally unsure why 32 teams should compete in a playoff (except for more $$$$$). Play 10 consective weeks Sept to early November, start playoffs two weeks after regular season. End 16-team playoffs Friday before Christmas break in most systems. Or if the G$HA really needs 32 team playoffs, no off-weeks, period.


August 2nd, 2011
9:09 pm



August 2nd, 2011
9:11 pm



August 2nd, 2011
9:13 pm

I think being out in heat doesn’t make your body get used to heat but I do think the side effect is weight loss, and you do learn when it is too hot. But I remember drinking cokes and kool-aid all day and being out in the heat and it not really bothering me, never had a problem sweating. I did grow up in a house that did not have air conditioning and am probably more tolerant of heat than most people in the mid 30’s like me. Who knows? I do know you never see kids outside by themselves playing unorganized ball in mid-day anymore, only adults.

Tech Fan Since 1950

August 2nd, 2011
9:17 pm

OK, I report from the dark ages. BUT back in the 1960’s our two a days in high school began around August 14. It was still hot (it was Atlanta by the way) and sometimes unbearable, but somehow most of us got through it. Today I live in South Georgia and we have had many days above 100 degrees since June this year. It always gets hot here, but this summer has been the worst in my 19 years in this part of the state. High school kids here are tough,, but this kind of weather is just too dangerous to be in full pads, or even shorts, especially during daylight hours. I love football, but something has to give. Both the high school and college seasons start too early. I know it relates to when schools start now. In earlier years high school classes did not start until after Labor Day and the college football season did not begin until the third week in September.


August 2nd, 2011
9:19 pm


Beth Kairys

August 2nd, 2011
9:21 pm

ok I have to comment cause this happened way to close to home. Football camp is not the first training they go to they start training before the school ended last year. Players are given constant water while at practice. I live in Fitzgerald where DJ live and he was a remarkable student and friend to so many here. He will be truely missed!

Is it Global Warming?

August 2nd, 2011
9:25 pm

Or maybe 2 out of shape kids doing a little more than they should have physically? Not being insensitive, but why do we always read about the less than 1% kids that this happens to in football and less than 1% kids that die in youth baseball every year and never hear about the 14,000,000 that don’t?

I hate to stop this blog in its tracks but.....

August 2nd, 2011
9:29 pm

I represent the 99%. Parents need to “make” their kids train and ready for preseason football. Not criticizing the parents of this one boy because accidents do happen. But what about the multitude of kids that are in good shape that never have an issue?

Get over yourself

August 2nd, 2011
9:32 pm

some of you jack ass macho jock itch dads need to think before your insensitive gay remarks offends the masses.

Pot calling the kettle black

August 2nd, 2011
9:33 pm

“some of you jack ass macho jock itch dads need to think before your insensitive gay remarks offends the masses”.

Sounds like a female Lowndes Countian to me

Brookwood mom

August 2nd, 2011
9:35 pm

“some of you jack ass macho jock itch dads need to think before your insensitive gay remarks offends the masses”

sounds like some Parkview people I know. Just sayin……