Teams adjust to sweltering temperatures

When large groups of high school football players strap on the shoulder pads for practice in the extreme Georgia heat, trainers take countless measures to keep them cool. But sometimes Mother Nature offers a better remedy.

Buford got that kind of blessing on Wednesday afternoon, the opening day of high school football practice in Gwinnett. As the players and coaches began the afternoon session of their two-a-day practices, a major afternoon rainstorm soaked everyone.

"We got pummeled," Wolves head coach Jess Simpson said. "It was unreal."

So before Simpson's players got too hot, they were cooled down with a well-timed shower.

"It came a downpour," Buford senior Cameron Henderson said. "It didn't get too hot afterward so it wasn't too bad of a first day."

Others weren't so lucky. They didn't get the relief against a heat wave that always has high school coaches concerned, a feeling that only intensified earlier this week when a Rockdale County 15-year-old died after collapsing at football practice.

Those horror stories always scare coaches, and local schools go to great lengths to make sure heat-related problems are kept in check.

"If you're a football coach in the South in July and August and you don't anticipate heat being an issue, you're fooling yourself," Wesleyan head coach Franklin Pridgen said. "You really have to keep an eye on the kids. Our first obligation, as important as winning and the program are, has got to be the safety of the kids. That's our first priority."

Football programs are always strict about weighing players before and after practices, closely watching to see if they are dehydrated or if they have replenished their body enough to continue practice. Frequent water breaks are a must, and most teams also schedule early-morning or late-evening practices to avoid the day's most agonizing heat.

Between the heat and humidity in August, it's actually possible that the conditions can become so bad that practices are either postponed or moved indoors.

"If Lara (Sikes) tells us no, we don't go," Collins Hill head coach Larry Sherrill said.

Sikes, the head athletic trainer at Collins Hill, is the person responsible for monitoring the players' health and the weather conditions at Eagle practices. She uses a device to measure heat index and follows a three-flag system based on the device's reading.

A yellow flag day with a heat index of 95 means practices are limited to two hours with water breaks every 20 minutes. When the heat index reaches 98, players don't wear leg pads along with practice time limits and water breaks.

If the heat index ever hits 106 - it has happened three times since Sikes has been at Collins Hill - the Eagles don't hold any outdoor practices in any sport.

"It's very possible to get to 106," Sikes said. "If the air temperature is 95 and the humidity is 65, you can get there very easily. At 106, your body can't physically cool itself."

Even on days when the heat index doesn't reach those scorching levels, it's still plenty hot. Local coaches and players accept the heat as a fact of life, one they don't expect to ease off in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 1 season openers.

With that in mind, they find ways to deal with the heat. And they'll gladly accept any help from Mother Nature.

"Luckily we've had some breeze," Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe said. "It's just hot. It's been hot all summer long. Our kids have been out in it this summer to get used to it. But still when you put all that gear on, you really have to watch them."