Know the signs: 4 questions to ask your child’s high school coach about heat exhaustion

Protecting high school athletes from heat exhaustion

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several high school teams are participating in summer conditioning right now. Other players will hit the field or track at the beginning of next month.

Now is the perfect time for parents to ask questions about their child’s safety while playing in the heat.

While every Duval County public high school is staffed with a certified athletic trainer during the school year, these trainers do not work during the summer break.

As a result, there are important questions you should be asking your student’s coach as our area continues to experience sweltering hot conditions. The feels-like temperatures this month have been 100+ degrees.

Here are four questions to ask your student’s coach:

  • Do they know the Emergency Plan if a student collapses or becomes overcome by heat?
  • Do they know where to find the AED on campus?
  • How often are water breaks given during outdoor practice?
  • Is there a cold water immersion tub on site and ready to be used during practice?

News4JAX visited Englewood High School to see what is done to protect athletes as they participate in outdoor sports during summer conditioning.

The practice was scheduled during the morning when it is not as hot. Even still, while we were there temperatures were in the mid-80s and the humidity made it feel even hotter.

Coaches gave the students at least three water breaks during the time we spent on the field. A cold water immersion tub was filled with water and there were several 10-gallon jugs of ice next to it, in case a player became so overcome with heat, they needed to be submerged in the tube.

Jerry Stevens, Duval County Public School district athletic training supervisor, showed us how the tub works.

“We want to circulate this water and will continue to add ice so the athlete’s body temperature doesn’t increase because we want to cool them down below 102 degrees in a very short amount of time,” he explained.

No athlete needed to use the tub that day. We spoke with the athletic trainer who works at the high school. She said she has only had to use it for precautionary reasons.

Stevens said every public Florida High School Athletic Association high school is required to have a cold water immersion tub on the ready during athletic events and also a shade tent available to get athletes out of the sun should they show signs of heat exhaustion.

These requirements are the result of the Zachary Martin Act.

Martin, 16, collapsed and later died after a three-hour practice five years ago during summer conditioning at the Ft. Meyer’s High School where he played football.

Doctors later revealed the teen’s core body temperature had been 107 degrees for several hours. All of his organs had shut down.

His parents had to make the heart-wrenching decision to remove him from life-support days later. His mother pushed the legislature to establish procedures that should be followed within high schools to protect student-athletes from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. She arrived shortly after her son collapsed and said the coach had no emergency plan for this type of incident.

Her son sat in the sun, there was nothing to cool him down and she was the one who made the decision to call 911. Her goal is that no other family suffers the same pain as the loss she has felt.

Duval County public school district athletic trainers also have “Wet Bulb Globe” thermometers -- which measure the feels-like temperature each day. A calculation is taken before practice and then the trainers consult with coaches about the safest playing conditions.

If the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature indicates 90 degrees or higher -- practice must be conducted indoors.

These readings can also require modification to outdoor practices, including different times, lengths of practice, and whether equipment should be worn that day during practice.

“We are the educator, communicator, we are also the enforcer,” Stevens said regarding the role athletic trainers play during the school year. “We are the guardian ad litem for the student-athlete.”

Warning signs of Heat Exhaustion:

  • Headaches
  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Profuse sweating
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting or dizziness

Stevens said parents are a tremendous asset in protecting student-athletes from exertional heat exhaustion, which is heat exhaustion brought on by physical exercise.

“Communicate with your kids,” he explained. “Parents know their kids so well. Ask questions, make sure they are getting enough to drink, eat and enough sleep.”

He said it does not take much for a student to get dehydrated.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.