Football Heat

Frederick High School head athletic trainer Theo Tsakalakis sits with the school cold-water immersion tank that would be used in the event of an overheated athlete. The large tank is kept partially filled with water. The athlete would be placed in the tank and five coolers of ice would be added.

With oppressive humidity and high temperatures hovering over Frederick County for much of this week, Frederick County public school fall teams have another asset that will help guard against heat-related illness.

Earlier this summer, FCPS purchased 100-gallon cold-water immersion tubs for each of its 10 high schools, and while they can often be seen at the ready near football practice fields, they can be utilized by athletes participating in other fall sports.

Last year, University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed while running conditioning sprints in College Park, and he died two weeks later. The university’s athletic training staff reportedly did not administer cold-water immersion treatment after McNair collapsed, and the 19-year-old’s family later announced his cause of death as heatstroke.

FCPS Supervisor of Athletics and Extracurricular Activities Kevin Kendro said McNair’s death played a role in the purchase of the tubs.

“The safety of our student athletes has always been a top priority, so obviously, yes, [McNair] being in the news in that extremely unfortunate situation has heightened the awareness around it,” Kendro said.

FCPS athletic trainers are also armed with a large tarp that, when held up by multiple people, can create an elliptically shaped container that can hold ice, water and a player that may need attention. The cooling method is known as TACO, or tarp-assisted cooling with oscillation.

Brunswick’s football team put one of its two cold-water immersion tubs to use on Saturday for a player who was suffering from heat exhaustion.

His body temperature had risen significantly, and he later received more medical attention in a hospital, Railroaders coach Jerry Smith said.

“He was out here for 15 minutes — that’s it — and he had heat exhaustion right away,” Smith said during a Monday evening football practice.

Smith fully supported the use of the tubs and all of the safety measures put in place for high school athletes. While football is known for its necessary physicality, Smith places more value on his players being mentally sharp and carrying out their individual assignments correctly on the field.

“We want our kids to know what they’re doing, so we need to get the most out of practice that we can,” Smith said.

FCPS placed systemic restrictions on practices for all fall sports on Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures were in the mid 90s. All practices after noon could not begin until 6 p.m.

Tuesday was the first day football teams could practice with full pads, but they were only permitted before 10 a.m. On Wednesday and Thursday, full-pad football practices could not take place between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Kendro views the administrators and coaches presiding over athletic activity as well-prepared in terms of navigating through extreme heat.

All FCPS coaches are required to take a 15-hour course on the care and prevention of athletic injuries, which covers heat illness prevention and treatment. Also, they must take a heat illness prevention course provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Coaches for all sports must abide by a procedures/acclimatization charts that place restrictions on attire worn and the amount of time spent practicing.

“Our coaches, our athletic directors and our athletic trainers, I’m so proud of how we handle everything,” Kendro said. “There’s never any concerns or questions.”

Certain coaches may place their own restrictions during practice to account for the heat.

As Smith spoke about the issue on Monday, Railroaders defensive coordinator Michael Harrison presided over a defensive line drill during which players did not wear helmets. Meanwhile, JV players were not wearing shoulder pads for practice.

Kendro brought up some extra safety measures put in place last fall, when high temperatures carried on into the middle of September. Officials presiding over soccer, field hockey and volleyball games built in additional rest time. Kendro said parents of golfers are normally not permitted to assist their children with hydration, but that restriction has at times been relaxed to account for extreme heat.

“Everyone understands we need to do what’s right for our students and student-athletes,” Kendro said. “The heat is tough in the early fall season, and we’re not going to take any chances.”

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