Which high school football players are more likely to die in practice?

According to researchers, most high school football players who die from heat-related illness are:

  • Overweight — 85 percent of those who died in recent decades were linemen.
  • In the first few weeks of practice — preseason.
  • And on the field in the morning – which is perceived as a cooler, safer time but may actually have higher humidity leading to problems.

According a Reuters story scientists and climatologists say the risks for high school football players are higher than ever in this record-heat, drought-stricken summer.

From Reuters:

“Just in the past month, morning temperatures have been higher across the country than they have ever been, Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said on the teleconference.”

“That raises the risks even further for players whose coaches believe mornings are less risky, the group said.”

“Some 123 players died from heat exhaustion between 1960 and 2009, said Andrew Grundstein, an associate professor at University of Georgia who has studied hyperthermia among high school players.”

“The annual death rate has increased from an average of about one per year in the 1980s to a 2.8 yearly average in the last 15 years, possibly due to higher annual temperatures and bigger players, he said.”

“In recent decades, 95 percent of those players were overweight, 60 percent died after heat exposure in the morning hours, 85 percent were linemen, and a full two-thirds of them died in the first two weeks of the preseason, Grundstein said.”

I am fascinated with this explanation of why more and more young men are dying on the football field. I haven’t read before this specific profile of the players more likely to die. (The deaths often seem to be attributed to an underlying heart condition that the player was unaware of but this seems to indicate it’s more likely other factors.)

I hope that coaches read this article and take heed when planning practices and watching players who may be more likely to have problems

Send this article to your high school football families and coaches so they will understand the risks and may not underestimate the potential threat of high-humidity morning practice.

So what do you think: Does this statistical profile make sense? What should football programs do to stay competitive but not inadvertently hurt our kids?

18 comments Add your comment


August 5th, 2011
5:24 pm

I wont point fingers thank you but I will say these kids need to more active outside during the summer and drinking water like it was free!


August 5th, 2011
5:41 pm

My son played the line in HS. He is now a college junior. We did what we could to make sure he was safe, including paying for the heart scan when it was offered. The summer practices began by 7 am, and ended at 11 most days. Yet, the coaches still made the kids run bleachers or laps if they weren’t satisfied with the day’s performance. I worried every single day. He loved playing though, so I just hoped he would not get hurt, or worse. So many times practice left the boys vomiting on the field. Our school did have a trainer at all the practices and games, paid for by the parents when the school funds couldn’t cover it.

I think trainers are an absolute necessity in this hot GA heat. They bring a different perspective than the coaches and have better first aid training.

Old Footballer

August 5th, 2011
7:34 pm

The overweight teen is part of the problem but the bigger problem is acclimation to the heat. Sitting in the A/C all summer then going outside to exert the type of physical output to perform in football practice is the real problem. Parents who didn’t play the sport and/ or who hire their household chores to be completed don’t understand this. I came from a middle class family but a hard-a$$ father who put me to work early in life; at home and for others; in the heat. Mr., err Professor Grundstein’s study would be more impressive if he actually accumulated data about what the typical day of the lost lives were leading up to their death. I will bet they were house rats who rarely ventured into the heat until practice began. A human body takes a few days to adjust to temperature extremes and if there was no other underlying reason why the victims’ bodies couldn’t adapt to the heat, then acclimation is the blame. Just an old lard-arse lineman’s opinion. Heck my HS Coach ran the irrigation leading up to practice time just to make it more humid during the “fun” he brought to us; I loved every minute of it. Thank God my Dad made me perform the manual labor he did.

Metro Coach

August 5th, 2011
8:22 pm

Which players are more at risk? The ones who sit on the couch all summer drinking soft drinks and eating potato chips, candy, and other assorted junk food instead of attending the workouts that are designed to get them in condition for early season practice. Its summer in Georgia, its hot, it will be hot unti sometime in November. The “phenomenon” of more kids suffering heat stroke is easily explained, and, no, its has nothing to do with the fake science of global warming. Kids who sit in the AC all summer then try to get out in the August heat and run around are at a vastly greater risk of heat related illness. The more lazy kids get, more of them get sick. Its not a coach’s fault that a player decides to cosume 2 or 3 soft drinks during the day and then try to come out and practice. Before we start with the “You’re just sticking up for coaches because you are one” stuff, I’m a basketball coach, and I’m not a big fan of most high school football coaches. I’ve had more than one try to bully my players to keep them from playing basketball, and try to bully me. They aren’t my favorite people, but in this case, its not their fault.


August 5th, 2011
8:39 pm

My husband, also a coach, no longer a football coach, basically said exactly what Metro Coach said above. When we were young, we didn’t even have air conditioning, and rarely played inside, but were out in the heat all summer long. Kids now just aren’t acclimated to the heat. Coaches still need to carefully monitor, obviously, but the statistics do seem to point to the size of many players as a serious risk factor. Weight and specifically inactivity is a huge issue among children.


August 5th, 2011
8:39 pm

I do not understand how a coach could lose a child in his care and ever want to coach again.


August 5th, 2011
9:07 pm

Bigguy, coaches don’t lose kids, the parents did by letting them sit inside, play on the computer and eat pizza until they decide to play sports. People dying from any type of physical activity is just a fact and will always be a part of life no matter how extreme our precaution. Farmers don’t quit farming just because a worker dies in the field. Media plays right to blood hunters like you, especially this pitiful excuse for a paper that we have here in the ATL. Things happen.

Outside Observer

August 5th, 2011
9:48 pm

I wonder how many of the 5% who weren’t overweight had an underlying heart condition, I wonder how many of the 95% who were overweight had an underlying heart condition, and I wonder how many of those who didn’t have an underlying heart condition were out of shape when it was time to start practice. Coaches want to win and they will push the kids to get everything they can out of them. If a player shows up completely out of shape, they are much more likely to get sick from the heat. Now, I’m not accusing the players of being completely responsible because they didn’t work out enough over the summer, nor am I accusing the coaches of being burden free as they should know their players and know their limits, but these tragedies are preventable. Get your kids tested for underlying conditions, and make sure they stay in shape in the offseason. Coaches, get to know your kids and know their limits. There is a threshold that should not be crossed. If the goal is for half the kids to vomit by the end of practice, you are pushing too hard.

Rebel fan

August 5th, 2011
11:03 pm

Here’s an idea. Whether it’s global warming or just hot as hell. The fine GHSA AND DR SWEAR should change schedules to first game dates as OCT 1st and first full pad dates to Sept 1st and daily workouts for the months of July and august to be held before 10am and after 5pm because if you save one HS football players life you have succeeded.

mom of 3

August 6th, 2011
7:31 am

You can’t show up for practice of any sport on the first day and not have done your own off-season condidtioning. No, it isn’t the coaches fault, it isn’t even the parents faults. High school kids that play sports know what it takes on those first few weeks – if they stay inside playing video games, and being lazy then they really don’t want it badly enough to acheive the position. Should they die NO but they should realize they like being on the team NOT being a team player — BIG difference. It’s Georgia get your butts outside and condition yourself at any age that Georgia has heat — always has always will. I am sorry for the boys that these towns have lost but don’t blame the coach. Our football coach would bring cots into the school and the boys would start practice at 5am – 11am, they would have lunch and then were required to rest inside during the afternoons and then have night practices. + a trainer and plenty of water available at all times.


August 7th, 2011
9:16 am

Well said Metro Coach! My son played high school football (state champs two years running!) and they are required to condition all summer long or they don’t attend camp. He has since graduated but I stay in touch with the coaches through school. They have just finished football camp and one of the coaches told me they didn’t have any problems at all, hardly even a player with a cramp. It is all about conditioning and supervision. My heart goes out to the families and teams that lost these boys. I hope other high schools will learn from this and require conditioning (and use some common sense) so the players will be ready for the August heat.


August 7th, 2011
4:24 pm

I grew up with a football helmet on my head in August not far from Myrtle Beach. I have run over 10 Peachtree’s and am not ignorant of being in the heat. That being said, I’m stumped as to why kids are dropping dead now and they didn’t back then. Are the kids different (less athletic?), are there performance enhancing issues, is it overtraining, is it genetics catching up with all we can take physically?

Sorry, Jeff, but...

August 7th, 2011
5:48 pm

…there is no such thing as “I’m stumped as to why kids are dropping dead now and they didn’t back then”…back “then” was 1966 – 1974 for me playing high school (here in GA and FL) and D1 college football (in North Carolina). In both instances we heard of kids who died during summer practice in several states (UNC was a school that had just such a death in 1972), and I will never forget one of my teammates who had a severe case of heat exhaustion during and after one practice (also 1972) crying out to the trainer that “I don’t want to die” while being treated- fortunately, he did not die though he was in bad shape for a while but recovered fully.

As others have said there are a myriad of causes for the deaths these days, and we are all sad when this happens, but a “then” vs “now” comparison is not new or valid.


August 8th, 2011
6:23 am

I had a football coach, whose favorite thing to say, when a kid was about to croak from the heat, had a leg that was pointing at some un-natural angle, or had his jock strap on his head (this was common for the weaker boys) was, “SPIT ON IT BOYYYYY!! GITTT BAAAACK INNNN LINE, AND GIVE ME 50, YOU WORTHHHHHLESS PIECE OF TOAD SQUAT!! WHO DO YOU THINK HEEEEEEARS YOUR WHINING? YOURRRR MAMA? WELLLL LITTTTLE GIRRRRRL SHE AIN’T HERE, SO SPIT ON IT….”

Luckily, we were outside boys that were active pretty much all of the time, so we could take the abuse that a southern football coach could give out. Hell, we were proud of coming out of pratice alive, most times.
Run a football drill called “bully in the ring” in the hot Georgia sun. It was a rite of passage for us.


August 8th, 2011
6:35 am

Another southern football memory

In addition to the scheduled abuse we endured from the coaches at school, we used to gather every Sunday at a little ballpark. We would choose up and play “full contact”, no pads, and wide open football. More boys got broken collar bones, legs, arms, etc… than all of the supervised football combined. When a bad injury happened, we quickly came up with a lie and a plan, because we knew that our parents would shut down Sunday football otherwise.
“Jim was climbing the big oak tree, and slipped. We heard his collar bone snap. We were scared” instead of the real story, Jim was running a post route, and was upended, did a 360 – WHAM! – you could hear that sucker snap across the field – we laughed.


August 8th, 2011
2:02 pm

I agree 100% with Metro Coach.


August 8th, 2011
2:03 pm

Good shares Shaggy!

basketball teammates

August 11th, 2011
12:34 am

Good job, Thanks for sharing your thoughts!