Heat Related Deaths In Football

by Tommy Walker

It’s time again for the high school and college football seasons to start back in the south. Starting in the middle of July or August, the heat is brutal on all players and coaches. It is very important for all athletes to be educated and follow through with hydration preparations prior to every practice. Back in my day, we had a little more of an advantage with preparation. Our normal summer days consisted of getting up in the morning, playing outside until lunch, after lunch we would go back out in the heat the rest of the day until you heard your mother letting you know it was dinner time. Times have changed. Most kids today stay inside the majority of the summer time playing video games in the air conditioner. This is a very dangerous situation for our young athletes. Every athlete needs to be acclimated to the heat prior to any exercise outdoors in the summer heat. They should be slowly getting themselves acclimated to the heat by working outside when lifting, running, etc. to gradually get used to the heat of the summer.

What are heat cramps? Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat injury and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

What is heat exhaustion? Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

What is heat stroke? Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

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As a volunteer coach at Little Rock Central high football, I know we have a few freshman coming in that have not played in middle school and others that have played but aren’t acclimated to the heat properly. Many times freshman athletes reporting to practice haven’t been hydrated and aren’t educated with the preparation needed for heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke. Most of the athletes are coming out in the heat for the first time, and really don’t have an understanding of water hydration in general. Some of them may have the information, but haven’t been going by the rules.  Others just haven’t received the proper information. It is one thing to know the rules and procedures of heat exhaustion. It’s another thing to abide by them. The parents have as much to do with this as the athletes. It is the parent’s responsibility to engrain this information in their athletes, and make sure they are following the rules. Every team, coach, and parent has been given this information prior to football season. Coaches are educated and tested by the Arkansas Athletics Assoc. about heat exhaustion, cramps and stoke, and recognize the signs should any player show symptoms of heat exhaustion. It is also very important to me because my youngest son, Thomas plays on the team.

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It’s really a shame we have football athletes die from heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke in the United States every year. I personally believe that we should shift the football season to one month later in the year. Instead of starting in August, the season could start in September. Typically, by the month of September the temperatures have began to cool off in the summer time. It just makes common sense to do this, knowing that we have had climate changes in the past few years. How many students athlete will die before we make this change?

See below for other stories pertaining to heat-related information.

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