The Georgia High School Association’s new heat-acclimatization policy, adopted in March, requires all football players to build up tolerance to high temperatures by working out in shorts and helmets for five days before donning full pads.
Three-a-day practices are banned, and two-a-day practices cannot take place on consecutive days or exceed five hours in a single day; a three-hour rest period is mandatory between the two sessions, and single practice sessions may last no longer than three hours. To demonstrate how serious the organization is about this issue, schools found in violation of the new mandates face fines of up to $1,000.
“We want to make sure that all the kids are out in the sun with moderate levels of practices without the heavy equipment, so they get used to [the] outdoors,” GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Research has shown there are times when players are most vulnerable.” Those times are usually during morning practices in August, especially in the eastern half of the United States, according to Andrew Grundstein, the climatologist who oversaw the retrospective UGA study that the new policy is based on.
Stephenson High School head football coach Ron Gartrell is keenly aware of heat-related health issues and takes a great deal of precautions to avoid them.
Stephenson players usually begin practice at 5 p.m. during cooler weather; however, practice begins an hour later this summer. Workouts are scheduled for four days a week until the end of July, then will go to five days a week beginning in August. “We monitor kids as best we can, at any sign of trouble, we get them to shade and give them water and ice, Gartrell said.
To make sure players take in a sufficient amount of water to keep from becoming dehydrated he tells them “to spend five to 10 seconds at the water fountain between every class and to bring frozen jugs of water to school.” He said roughly 40 percent of student athletes do it and if players put the frozen jugs in their football lockers, by the end of the day they have ice cold water. There is also a sign in the locker room that says to drink a gallon of water before practice, a gallon during practice and a gallon after. “A lot of the kids bring their own water bottles to practice. That way they don’t have to wait during water breaks,” he said.
Gartrell said that he can usually tell in the workouts if players have not had enough water or proper nutrition. “They won’t be able to get through the workouts; either it’s a lack of hydration or a lack of food. Kids today eat Pop Tarts, sweet cereal. At least at school they’ll get that school meal in.”
During a recent workout, one player after 30 minutes said he wasn’t feeling well. The player told Gartrell that he had one bowl of cereal all day.
Gartrell said he grew up in a small Georgia town and was outside all the time. He was used to the heat when it came time to practice. “Also, we didn’t have fast food, that plays a lot into it,” he said.
Dante Ferguson, head football coach at Stone Mountain High School, schedules morning practice 8:30-11 or so. Starting Aug. 1 the team will go to two practices each day, two days per week 6:30-9 a.m., then 1-1/2 hours in the afternoon.
“A lot of the guys go to camps so they’re acclimated to the weather by the time we start workouts. They have to pass a conditioning test before they get equipment, like I had to do in college. If they don’t pass, they have to do extra until they pass it.” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said that the coaching staff relies on parents to make sure the players eat and drink the right things. “They should put good things in their bodies and stay away from sodas. I wish more parents would be more educated on nutrition. I send them information on the importance of workouts and nutrition. They do pretty good. Some take to it. Unfortunately, the best food for your body is the most expensive.”