Safety & Security

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As Summer Closes, Heat Safety Measures Remain in the Spotlight

5 Sep, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

All the way back in June, school administrators and health professionals were weighing in on what constituted appropriate safety measures for sports practice in hot weather.

Now, as teams head back onto the field for their competitive season, there has been at least one entry into the commercial marketplace, which the inventors and investors claim can keep athletes safer.

Players hitting the field for the University of Virginia are able to swallow a pill (noted to be about the size of a multivitamin) that contains a digestible sensor that facilitates Bluetooth connectivity, allowing team trainers to monitor each athlete’s core temperature in real time during the workout.

“It’s really helping us keep them safe,” UVA assistant athletic director for sports medicine Kelli Pugh, the football team’s primary trainer, told The Manchester Times. “Before, we had to wait until they felt bad to tell us they felt bad.”

Athletic Business notes, “The pill is being used with freshmen and other high-risk players only before certain workouts. Athletes whose core body temperature begins to approach 104 degrees — which clinically defines heatstroke — can be monitored and treated before they begin to experience major symptoms, according to the Times report. Entering a players' jersey number into the system pulls up that individual's core temperature data.

Pugh told the Times that she believes Virginia is the only school currently using the technology, which cost about $60,000 a year to implement.”

Some programs are eschewing this technology and using what is already in existence. The South Carolina High School League, for example, requires that every school have the device known as a wet-bulb globe temperature monitor (WBGT). It is a device used to measure heat, humidity, wind speed and solar radiation.

Bob Roth, a trainer at Barnwell High School, noted the device is consistently used.

"If it's a Friday night football game and the reading goes higher than 92 wet bulb, then we will stop until the reading goes down," Roth said.

Unfortunately, the measures are too late in some cases. And in Maryland, the consequences were tragic. According to an article in USA TODAY, preliminary findings from an independent investigation of the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair showed medical personnel failed to immediately treat McNair for heatstroke when he fell ill during a supervised workout.

And in yet another case – so recent that a cause of death has not been determined – a 16-year-old football player, Byhalia High School’s Dennis Mitchell, collapsed and died after returning the field following a hard hit early in a game. Mitchell’s grandmother, Adeline Richard, was stunned.

"How can (the coaching staff) just put him back in the game?" she asked. "It was hot, he was tired, his head was hurting, he didn't feel well and he got sick. I just don't understand."

It was later released that there was no athletic trainer present on the field during the incident. Don Hinton, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, said state high school coaches are required to have first responder course training and must abide by specific practice and game regulations.

What's not required, however, is the inclusion of certified athletic trainers on the sidelines. Hinton said some available trainers travel on a rotation, but it is largely up to the host school whether one will be available.

"Schools are responsible for having a certified athletic trainer on site during the games," he said. "We'd like for all 250 or so schools to have one on site, but it's just not easy for us to provide one for every game in Mississippi each weekend."

The continuing debate over what constitutes correct athlete care – both during hot practices and on the sidelines in general – has been raging for years now, and it isn’t expected to die down any time soon.

A recent article in SDM noted that according to the Collier County (Florida) News-Press, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury has research indicating that from 1995 to 2015, 61 football players died from heat stroke (46 high school, 11 college, two professional and two organized youth). Ninety percent of recorded heat stroke deaths occurred during practice.

Despite this, officials in the sunshine state are fighting an uphill battle with school administrators to counter the problem.

The Florida High School Athletic Association stated it would only mandate basic life-saving equipment in case of heat stroke if told to do so by lawmakers. Florida Sen. Kathleen Passidomo of Naples said she has begun working on legislation to mandate access to ice tubs for player immersion in cases of heat stroke after the state agency voted not to require the standard equipment or special thermometers, known as wet bulb globe thermometers (WGBTs) that measure heat stress.

“I’m going to sit down over the summer and see if I can work with the association so that we can craft a bill that works for everyone and accomplishes our goal of making sure students aren’t going to die from heat stroke,” Passidomo said in a June 12 news article. “It’s important that we work together.”

Spurring the legislation on is the memory of a high school football player who was taken off life support last summer following his heat-induced collapse at a practice. Zachary Polsenberg’s core temperature registered 107 degrees for more than an hour, on a day with a daytime high of 92.

SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.

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