By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Despite unseasonably cool temperatures this summer in Michigan, high school athletes should prepare for the heat that usually accompanies August and the beginning of Michigan High School Athletic Association fall practices as they kick off next week.
Each year, the MHSAA provides information to its member schools to help them prepare for hot weather practice and game conditions in the late summer and early fall. Football practice can begin August 11, followed by first practices for all other fall sports August 13.
The topic of heat-related injuries receives a lot of attention at this time of year, especially when deaths at the professional, collegiate and interscholastic levels of sport occur, and especially since they are preventable in most cases with the proper precautions. In football, data from the National Federation of State High School Associations shows that nationally 41 high school players died from heat stroke between 1995 and 2013.
Many MHSAA schools this fall are expected to again follow the MHSAA’s Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity that directs schools to monitor heat index prior to and during activity and recommends actions based on those readings.
Also this school year, for the first time, the MHSAA is requiring all assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level to complete the same rules and risk minimization meeting requirement as high school varsity head coaches, or, in the alternative, one of several online courses designated for this purpose on MHSAA.com.
“It’s not an accident that causes severe heat illness and death. It’s a lack of attention to what should’ve been taking place, a lack of preparation,” said John E. “Jack” Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. “We’re trying to communicate to our constituents that if we make the precautions that we should, plan as we should, we will have none of these tragedies in school sports.”
The MHSAA Representative Council adopted in 2013 the Model Policy for Managing Heat & Humidity that, while not mandated for member schools, has been adopted by many at the local level. The plan directs schools to begin monitoring the heat index at the activity site once the air temperature reaches 80 degrees and provides recommendations when the heat index reaches certain points, including ceasing activities when it rises above 104 degrees.
The model policy is outlined in a number of places, including the publication Heat Ways, which is available for download from the MHSAA Website. Heat Ways not only provides the model policy, but addresses the need for proper acclimatization in hot weather.
Heat, hydration and acclimatization also are again focuses of the MHSAA’s required preseason rules meetings for coaches and officials. The online presentation discusses the need for good hydration in sports, regardless of the activity or time of year.
The Health & Safety Resources page of the MHSAA Website has a number of links to different publications and information and a free online presentation from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Visit MHSAA.com, click on “Schools” and then on “Health & Safety Resources” to find the information.
Roberts said the first days of formal practices in hot weather should be more for heat acclimatization than the conditioning of athletes, and that practices in such conditions need planning to become longer and more strenuous over a gradual progression of time.
He added schools also must consider moving practices to different times of day, different locations, or change practice plans to include different activities depending on the conditions.
“I think all schools need to prepare themselves in these ways,” Roberts said. “They need to educate participants, parents and coaches about proper hydration and the dangers of practicing and competing when the heat and humidity are too high.”